Senior Signing Spotlight: Adam Rivera
Practicing against Cactus offense helped cornerback on way to Arizona Christian
This is No. 20 in a month-long series of profiles of Arizona high school seniors that signed with four-year colleges. Here's the full list (currently totaling 297) of players from within the state moving on to the next level.
There are athletes that rack up many offers during the recruiting process. For others, there may be just a single offer. But, you can only commit and sign with one school and if you feel it's the right one for you and you don't want to pass up that shot, you do what Adam Rivera did.
And that's sign with Arizona Christian. The 5-11, 160-pound cornerback at Cactus knows that not many people get the opportunity to continue playing the sport that they love while pursuing a college degree.
"I knew this was a once in a lifetime shot and I couldn't pass up the chance to play at the next level," Rivera said in an e-mail interview. "From a young age, I was taught to never live life with regrets."
Arizona Christian is beginning its sixth year as a program. Rivera knew the Firestorm hadn't been around too long, but he didn't know how successful ACU has been prior to when he was recruited by them as a senior.
How good have the Firestorm been? Well, Arizona Christian had its winningest year in 2018 going 8-3. Over the past four years, the Firestorm has compiled a record of 28-12. ACU competes at the NAIA level in the Sooner Athletic Conference.
Last month, Arizona Christian signed its largest recruiting class with 92 new players. A total of 30 of them are coming to the team straight out of high schools from within the state. In addition to Rivera, the Firestorm were successful in recruiting receiver Zaachary Cullop and cornerback Rylee Williams from Cactus.
Cactus had a balanced offense last season and averaged 31 points per game. New head coach Joseph Ortiz had a solid rushing attack with junior Anthony Flores (1,292 yards) and a passing game that would go down the field vertically with junior Connor Cordts linking up with seniors Plas Johnson and Cullop (combined for 14 TDs and over 18 yards per reception). With so many different variations, it gave the Cobra defense a chance to learn tactics each day during the week that would help them against its opponents on Game Day.
"Going up against guys like Plas Johnson, Zaach Cullop, and Anthony Flores really helped me to solidify my game when it came to coverage and defending against the run," Rivera said. "Those guys are heavily underrated and helped to prepare myself for Friday nights."
Rivera's favorite memory from his time at Cactus came in last October's homecoming game against Coconino. The Cobras faced a 21-20 deficit after three quarters and had to make plays in the critical fourth quarter.
"They continued to drive the ball down the field on us with their run game," Rivera said. "They finally decided to try passing the ball. I picked it off in the end zone and set our offense up to score."
A long, 80-yard pass play from Cordts to Johnson gave Cactus the lead and the Cobras went on to win, 32-21. Cactus shut the visitors from Flagstaff out in the second half and had trailed 21-8 in the second quarter.
"It felt great knowing I contributed to helping the team win a tough game," Rivera said.
Ortiz took over for longtime head coach Larry Fetkenhier in January of 2018. Fetkenhier had led the Cobras' program for 33 years. Each had different areas of importance during the offseason.
"Coach Ortiz really put an emphasis on us taking care of our bodies this season," Rivera said. "Once summertime came around, he made us condition before every workout we did. This helped prepare us mentally and physically."
Ortiz also had the team doing yoga on Friday before games. It was a new way for the team to prepare.
"With Coach Fetk, he was more focused on strength and our numbers in the weight room," Rivera said. "It was a tough adjustment for our bodies, but it was much needed."
Cactus finished 8-4 last season, defeated Canyon del Oro in the first round of the playoffs, and continued its postseason streak to 18 straight years. Rivera doesn't see that ending anytime soon with the returners and the next wave of varsity Cobras.
"Playing football at Cactus created many bonds and memories that I'll forever remember," Rivera said. "Look out for the Cobras in these next few years. Coach Ortiz and the rest of the coaching staff truly loves the game, but most importantly, they love their players. The sky is the limit for this program and I can't wait to see how successful they become."