Semi-pro team dedicates season to Rivera

Photography by Alice Mary Herden

Nearly five months have passed since the tragic loss of Central High quarterback Sebastian Rivera. The prep football season, the holidays have all come and gone. Time may heal wounds, but for Martin Rivera dealing with the passing of his son is still very much a work in progress.

“It’s been rough,” Martin Rivera said. “It’s day by day, just trying to press on as much as you can together. There’s other kids to worry about, so it’s not like you surrender life. With the pain and everything you find a way to keep chugging forward and it’s more worrying about the other kids than anything.” Sebastian Rivera, 16, died on Sept. 27, less than a week after being involved in an accident while riding his motorcycle to school.Martin Rivera attempts to shed a blocker during a game last month. Photo by Alice Mary Herden

He was in the midst of a solid junior season under center for the Bears, and his father was mulling over the decision to make his own return to the gridiron as a middle linebacker for the West Coast Soldiers, a semi-pro team out of Hudson he had played with for several years. “I was thinking about playing when Sebastian was still alive and he got really excited about seeing me play again,” Martin Rivera said. “After he passed, whether I wanted to play again was an easy decision.”

So Martin Rivera ended his self-imposed football retirement, his old team welcoming him back with open arms and dedicating its season to Sebastian. “We’ve watched (Sebastian) grow up as a little kid,” said Soldiers general manager Shane Hagen. “He used to play with my kids. The boys always played football on the sidelines. He kind of grew up with us. For our team, it’s an honor (to dedicate the season). A little kid we watched grow up and the tragedy of what happened to him, we thought it’d be a good thing to do.”

Prior to a preseason game last month, the Soldiers presented Priscilla Rivera, Sebastian’s mother and Martin’s wife, with a number three jersey, in honor of the number Sebastian wore with Central. Sebastian’s younger brother Josh, who also played for the Bears, finished up the 2015 prep campaign by donning that same number, and his father is doing the same with the Soldiers. “I’ve got big shoes to fill, so I’ve got to make him proud,” Martin Rivera said. “It gives you that extra spark of energy. I’ve always been a big hitter, but now I try to give it a little extra.”

Those jerseys have a patch reading “Bash 3” and the roster also includes another of Rivera’s sons, Martin Rivera Jr. According to Hagen, the Soldiers are just happy to do what they can for their longtime teammate and his family.

Martin Rivera Jr. returns a punt for the West Coast Soldiers. Photo by Alice Mary Herden

“I don’t think any of us can imagine what we’d go through,” Hagen said. “I have two of my own. I don’t know that I’d be as strong as he is.”

The elder Rivera said he appreciates the support from his team and all of those who have reached out. He also enjoys having the opportunity to use the sport he shares with his sons as a means to cope with Sebastian’s death.

“It’s helped me heal a little bit,” Martin Rivera said. “It might be but the two or three hours that the game lasts, but when you’re playing for him it’s like he’s right there. It still doesn’t make it any better, but I know I’m doing it for a great cause.”

Follow Chris Bernhardt Jr. on Twitter @cpbernhardtjr.

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