Friday, September 23, 2005

The Little Engine That Could......

A walk on redshirt freshman running back's first career start just happens to be the season opener at Camp Randall Stadium against the 23rd ranked Wisconsin Badgers on national TV. What happens in his senior? He is listed second on the depth chart at fullback. That is Bulldog senior running back Matt Rivera. The senior was thrust into the starting role as a freshman when senior Derrick Ward became ineligible, and senior Josh Levi left the program in 2002.

He beat out JC transfer, and eventual starter, Rodney Davis because of his hard work, dedication, and knowledge of the offense. 2002 was a down year in terms of talent and depth in the Fresno State backfield after the losses of Ward and Levi. Davis had a banner year, breaking the Fresno State season rushing record. Another walk on Bryson Sumlin became a reliable back up, while Rivera was regulated to spot duty on passing downs.

At times in the past three years, I would get frustrated to see Rivera in the backfield when Fresno State has had so much better talent at running back. Yet, I just can not help but respect the guy for sticking it out. This year with three running backs that could start for almost any team in the country ahead of Rivera, his playing time looked bleak.

Hey, he still had passing downs, right? Nope, former DB Clifton Smith was moved to the offense in the Spring. Smith is a gamebreaker, and his receiving ability made Rivera's playing time look minimal at best.

Well, what do you know, backup fullback Nathan Adams gets hurt in spring and Smith was lost for the season last week at Oregon. Rivera is now needed more than ever. He is Fresno State's most experienced back, and even with limited athletic ability, he will play his hardest when called upon.

Rivera reminds me of another underrated walk on running back Fresno State had, Jaime Kimbrough(95-98).(pictured top right)

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