By BRIAN JENNINGS
Tight end, Richie Rivera, and running back, Vance Upham, inked their names to continue their football careers as teammates at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. The pair signed letters of intent for the Division II Owls during a ceremony at the Southington High School library on Thursday, June 8.
“At first, Vance wasn’t sure if he was going to be at that school in the beginning,” said Rivera. “Hopefully, I talked him into it a little bit. Now we’re going together, and it’s going to be a fun experience.”
Upham initially thought about taking the prep school route, and looked at mostly Division II schools, like Assumption College in Worcester, Mass. But once Rivera told Upham that he was set on Southern, Upham told Rivera that he was going there with him.
“I was looking at all the places that were looking at me, and I had to take into consideration where those schools were,” said Upham. “I also looked at how much they would do for me financially. But Richie and a lot of other kids from Southington being there was also a big factor to it.”
Upon their discussion of schools to attend this fall, Rivera put a thought in Upham’s mind that Upham couldn’t disregard.
“That would be the last potential chance for us to play ball again,” said Upham. “I’m not going to be playing ball with any of my other old friends. So, I get another four years, and I’m going to do it.”
While Rivera helped in Upham’s decision to attend Southern, the Owl coaching staff and football program played a big part in Rivera’s decision.
“The coaches there are really nice, and I felt comfortable with them,” said Rivera. “I visited them while they played a couple games, and I like the type of football they play. They’re a tough team, and I want to play at a tougher level.”
Southington coach Mike Drury said that both Rivera and Upham will be dynamic players at Southern.
“Speaking with the Southern coaches in depth, I knew that they were very excited to get these two young men,” the coach said. “They know that these guys can potentially play at a Division I level. They’re that caliber of player.”
Last season, the Owls finished with an overall record of 6-5. Tom Godek is in his fourth season as head coach of the Owls after spending 13 seasons as the team’s offensive coordinator. A former Owl as a graduate of the class of 1988, Godek was officially named as the sixth head coach in the program’s history in April of 2014.
“The coaches do an excellent job, in terms of making sure the kids are taking care of themselves academically, first and foremost,” said Drury. “They play very competitive football, and they have awesome players there. Their program has been solid for decades.”
Rivera plans to study art education at Southern. Upham plans to study sports marketing and sports management.
As a three-year starter for the Blue Knight football team, Upham set the all-time rushing record in a single season and for a career at Southington High School. Upham broke the single-season rushing record after rumbling for 212 yards on 26 carries in a 47-20 win over Cheshire at home on Thanksgiving, passing Vinny Clements. Upham was also named the Southington and Cheshire Chamber of Commerce Apple Valley Outstanding Player of the Game.
A bruiser in the backfield, Upham finished this past fall with 1,950 yards and 25 touchdowns on 235 carries rushing. He also led the defense with 95 total tackles, including 54 assists. Upham leaves behind him a career of 3,832 total rushing yards on 458 carries and 49 total touchdowns (43 rushing), averaging 106.4 yards a game.
Rivera came off an injury he had sustained in his junior year, and became a huge target for quarterback, William Barmore. His physicality in blocking on the offensive line and ability to make big plays down the field earned him the Offensive Player of the Year award.
Like Upham, Rivera shined in the Thanksgiving game as well. He caught a 27-yard touchdown pass from Barmore to give the Knights a comfortable 34-20 lead with less than three minutes to play in the contest after the Knights were only up by seven. Rivera went on to lead all receivers in the game with 87 yards on four catches.
Rivera finished the season with 344 yards and five touchdowns on 27 receptions.
For more in depth coverage, see our weekly print edition. To contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.