New England Patriots player Derek Rivers, left, and his aunt, Sandy Dunn, talk to students during an assembly on Friday at Chelsea Elementary School. Sandy Dunn is an art teacher at the school. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

CHELSEA — Some of the questions, Derek Rivers expected. He’s been asked a few things by kids a few times. How tall are you? Rivers is 6-foot-5. Do you have any hobbies other than football? Rivers likes going to the movies with his wife, Lauren. They recently saw “Captain Marvel” and liked it.

Some questions made Rivers pause. It turns out, the Augusta-born New England Patriots defensive lineman hasn’t been asked everything. Rivers spoke to students at Chelsea Elementary School Friday afternoon, as the guest of his aunt, Sandy Dunn, the school’s art teacher.

Who is your favorite Patriots player? Rivers thought for a moment, and answered Deatrich Wise, his good friend and fellow 2017 draft pick. Have you faced anybody tougher than you? That question made Rivers laugh.

“I faced a lot of guys who are tougher than me,” he said.

Lauren Rivers, Derek’s wife, watched from the corner of the gym.

“He’s natural. It’s normal for him now, speaking to kids,” Lauren Rivers said.

After visiting classrooms, where he signed autographs and posed for selfies with students, Rivers said talking to students is something he enjoys.

“It’s s a blessing to be around kids and share your wisdom and your failures. It’s a blessing to talk to young kids,” Rivers said.

The visit to Chelsea coincided with a chance for Rivers and his wife to visit family in Maine before Patriots offseason workouts begin next month, and before the birth of their first child, due in early May.

New England Patriots defensive lineman Derek Rivers signs an autograph for students Friday at Chelsea Elementary School. Rivers added his uniform number, No. 95 and Proverbs 3:5-6, a Bible verse citation, to his name. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Rivers lost his rookie season to a torn ACL suffered in training camp. Last season, Rivers played in six games, recording two tackles and his first career sack. His first two professional seasons were about learning, Rivers said, and he doesn’t expect that to change.

“Take what I learned last year and get better this year,” Rivers said. “Lawrence (Guy) how he defends the run, and Adrian Clayborn, how he rushes, Taking nuggets from here and there… There’s so much to get better at. Just compete. Go in and compete and learn. Get better and more comfortable.”

Clayborn is gone, having been released by the Patriots, and standout defensive lineman Trey Flowers signed with the Detroit Lions as a free agent. Those losses leave a void in New England’s pass rush. There’s an opportunity there for the taking for Rivers, but he knows nothing will simply be handed to him.

“Every year’s an opportunity. Regardless of if those guys are in the locker room or not, it’s a competitive atmosphere. It’s great to have those guys in the locker room. I wish they were still there. We’ve just got to get better and take advantage of the opportunity,” he said.

Hard work was the focus of Rivers’ message to the students. He spoke of his own experiences as an unheralded high school recruit who went to Fork Union Military Academy to improve his grades and football skills. At Youngstown State, Rivers flew under the radar as a top defensive lineman in the Football Championship Subdivision.

“You need grades to play ball,” Rivers said. “To give yourself an edge, you have to put in the extra work. You have to work at your craft. Right now, your craft is school.”

Staffer Courtney Harrington, left, poses for a picture with New England Patriots defensive lineman Derek Rivers on Friday at Chelsea Elementary School. Rivers posed for photos and signed autographs after speaking to middle school students. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

While many around the country called New England’s 13-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams boring due to the defensive nature of the game, Rivers loved every second.

“Who was going to score first? Being on the D-line, that’s what you love. Even watching their guys. (Aaron) Donald is ridiculous,” Rivers said. “To be able to watch the front seven on both sides of the ball, honestly, ball like that. It was encouraging and just a blessing to see.”

The victory parade in Boston, Rivers’ first as a Patriot, was a treat.

“It was fun. To have the whole city come out. They said there was 2 million people there. To share that experience with teammates was awesome,” Rivers said.

The only edict Rivers was given by New England coaches for the offseason was simple. Don’t come back out of shape. Rivers goals for 2019 are no different than the previous two seasons.

“It’s the same every year. Do what I can do to help the team,” Rivers said. “Wherever they place me, do the best I can. If the role’s expanded or decreased, just do my job.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM


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