FOXBORO, Mass. — It wouldn’t be accurate to call Derek Rivers a “New England native.” But the new Patriots defensive end does have roots in the region.
Though he moved to North Carolina when he was just five months old, Rivers was born in Augusta, Maine, the hometown of his mother, Mary Leinonen. For that reason, the Patriots’ decision to select Rivers in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft last Friday set off a wild celebration in the young pass rusher’s household.
“It’s awesome,” Rivers said Thursday after he and the rest of New England’s 2017 draft class were introduced at Gillette Stadium. “I was actually born in Augusta, so being back in this area, my mom and that side of the family is ecstatic. She went to school at Northeastern, so they’re huge Patriots fans. And all my family and friends back home, they’re excited. Just to be in this stadium, it’s an overwhelming feeling. …
“Man, I’m here. The road to get here is over. Now it’s (time) to focus on winning another Super Bowl.”
Rivers said his mom “lost her mind” when she heard her son had been drafted by her hometown team. Leinonen, who still lives in North Carolina, told the Portland Press Herald she “did a little jig” after the pick was announced.
“She was so excited, and everybody on that side of the family was excited,” Rivers said. “My friends and family, they were all excited. … (The Patriots are a) first-class organization, man. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Rivers, who played his college ball at Youngstown State in the Football Championship Subdivision, acknowledged the pressure of joining a franchise as successful at the Patriots. But he said he’s embracing it.
“I’d say not anxiety, but (I’m) eager,” Rivers said. “I definitely have a sense of eagerness over me coming to this organization, man. It makes you want to work harder. That’s what I’m feeling. I’m just ready to get things going.”
New England has won two of the last three Super Bowls and has played in each of the last six AFC Championship Games.
Thumbnail photo via Zack Cox/NESN.com