Scott Bemis talks with the parents of Fresno State running back Ronnie Rivers to find out what he was like before he was a Bulldog:
What was Ronnie like as a baby/toddler?
Ron: “Always running around, always chasing the ball, always playing with some kind of ball. Playing catch, active, throw ball back and forth.”
Myla: “Actually started playing sports when he was three through our rec league, and he was all into it.”
What was Ronnie’s personality growing up?
Myla: (laughs) “He’s a funny kid, even now. Constantly making, he makes me laugh. Drives Ron crazy, always laughing at all his jokes. Ron was the butt of his jokes sometimes, doesn’t make him so happy.
Ron: “He thought it was funny sometimes, I just thought it was a pain in the butt.”
When did you notice he was gifted athletically?
Myla: “Well, he started playing flag football when he was four. During flag football everybody was like, ‘that kid is so fast, we want him on our team.’
Ron: “I guess I knew we had something going on there, at flag football. He was able to make guys miss and just run around them.”
What was Ronnie’s most interesting hobby?
Myla: “Ron started fishing when Ronnie was seven or eight or eight, and he just took a loving to it. In high school, he joined a fishing club. He was in fishing tournaments on weekends.
Ron: “Even bought his own bass boat. They took second in the state, in a competition, back in high school in 2017. His goal is hopefully to make it to the NFL one day, and hopefully fish in the offseason.”
At Freedom High School (Oakley, CA), Ronnie rushed for 2,239 yards as a senior and scored 33 touchdowns. That included a school-record 387 rushing yards vs Antioch, with seven touchdowns.
Ron: “As a freshman, they could not stop him. I remember, one time at practice, Coach went to the defense and said, ‘need you guys to tackle him.’ Gave him the ball ten times straight, he didn’t get tackled once. He blossomed each year, got better each year, better and smarter.”
Myla: “It was really fun to see him succeed, and to do all the things we knew he could do.”
Ron was an assistant coach at Freedom High School while Ronnie was a student-athlete. What was it like coaching Ronnie in high school?
Ron: “It was really fun coaching him, because as hard as I pushed him, he never quit. I played for Jim Sweeney, and that might have been the toughest guy I ever played for in my life. But you never quit.”
Despite his impressive stats, there were concerns about Ronnie’s size (5’8″), and he wasn’t heavily recruited out of high school. Tim DeRuyter and his staff didn’t offer him a scholarship, but…
Ron: “When Tim DeRuyter got fired, well, one of my good friends is Coach Tedford. So, I said, ‘Coach, shoot me straight.’ He had always shot me straight. So, I said, ‘shoot me straight. I’m going to send you his film and you let me know if he can play or not.’ I said, ‘because I played the game, you played the game. I think he might be better than me, Coach.’ I said, ‘I’m not gonna tell him that, but I think he might be better than me.’
“Within the hour, he called back and he said, ‘hey, Ronnie, if you wanna come here, there’s always a place here for you.’ He gets off the phone and I’m like, ‘what are you waiting on? Are you gonna go to San Jose State? If you go to San Jose State, I’ll go to the games. We love you, but we’re not wearing those terrible colors.’ I said, ‘it’s not happening, I’m not wearing it.’ But he calls Coach Tedford back and goes, ‘I’m in.’
“And I laugh, because Ronnie’s starting as a freshman. The first person who texts me is Coach DeRuyter. And he says, ‘I see, he’s doing well. I’m glad it worked out.'”