Sneaking into History


Northern Michigan quarterback Buddy Rivera will leave Marquette as one of the most prolific passers in the history of Wildcat football and will have numerous records to call his own.

But the one record that Rivera will not break is that for wins by a starting quarterback.

Rivera, who will play in his last game as a Wildcat on Saturday against Grand Valley State, owns Wildcat football records for most touchdown passes (52) and most total yards (7,607) for a Wildcat player. He also joins former quarterback Tom Bertoldi as the only NMU player to pass for 2,000+ yards in three consecutive seasons.

In spite of Rivera’s record setting pace, the Wildcats have won just 11 games since he put on an NMU uniform.

“That’s kind of what you think about after the years,” Rivera said. “Someday it will be good to look back on the records, but wins are the most important thing. That’s how they measure quarterbacks.”

Despite switching offensive techniques – and coaching staffs – two years ago when Northern got head coach Bernie Anderson, Rivera will still be regarded as one of the best to play the position at NMU.

“I don’t think he was in favor of the (system) change, as he was in favor of the offense they had,” Anderson said. “However, I think that now that the adjustment has been done, and we’ve thrown as much as we’ve thrown, I think this is an offense that fit him probably better.”

Growing up in Grandville Mich., Rivera cheered for the Detroit Lions and has been around football his entire life. His favorite player – like that of so many Michigan kids at the time – was Barry Sanders.

He began playing football at the age of eight, but wouldn’t truly settle into the quarterback position until his high school years.

“Growing up, linebacker was always my favorite position and that’s what I played,” Rivera said.”I was switched to quarterback my freshman year of high school.”

The move turned out to be a good choice and Rivera was soon starting for Grandville High School. In 2003 and 2004 – Rivera’s final years of high school – he made both the Michigan all-state and dream team.

As expected, colleges came calling for Rivera. The front-running school, in many people’s minds, was nearby Grand Valley State University.

Grand Valley was fresh off a national championship victory in 2003, with a promising freshman quarterback, Cullen Finnerty.

Rivera was told he would likely have to switch positions in order to play.

“I don’t think Grand Valley would have been right,” Rivera said. “They wanted me to switch to wide receiver so I just didn’t feel like that was the right place for me.”

Finnerty ended his career as the all-time winningest quarterback in college football history with a record of 51-4. Finnerty also led the Lakers to three national championship wins in 2003, 2005, and 2006. Since Finnerty’s future at GVSU seemed promising, Rivera never thought twice about pursuing a college career there.

A First Look

Rivera knew of NMU only because of the Marquette Challenge, an annual high school wrestling tournament. He made a visit to the university shortly after taking place in the wrestling tournament.

“I came to the Marquette Challenge my senior year and that was the only reason I came up here on a visit, and so they showed me the facilities and told me I’d have a chance to play early,” Rivera said.

Rivera signed with the ‘Cats in 2004 and took his first steps on the path to the NMU record books.

In his freshman season, Rivera only attempted 38 passes and saw action in six games, but the Wildcat coaches saw what Rivera could do for the program.

“[Ex-Wildcat coach Doug] Sams told me I would have a good shot at breaking some records, but I didn’t pay much attention to it at the time,” Rivera said.

In 2005, Rivera earned the starting position and never looked back, becoming a play-maker for the Wildcats right away.

“He’s a very good quarterback who can run and likes to take shots downfield,” sophomore running back Mark Bossuah said. “He makes plays and has won some games here with the plays he makes.”

During his first season under center, Rivera passed for 2,151 yards, and 13 touchdowns, rushed for 405 yards and led the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) in total offense. He was named to the All-GLIAC second team for his accomplishments.

During the 2006 season, Anderson’s first as Wildcat head coach, Rivera continued to improve, passing for 20 touchdowns and over 2,300 yards.

He collected 2,567 yards of total offense and was named the team’s MVP.

Statistically, Rivera may have succeeded at the college level, but wins were something that never came easily for the quarterback, who eventually became a leader for the team.

“I regret not stepping up sooner and not establishing a leadership role earlier,” Rivera said. “When you don’t win there is always going to be regrets.”

Senior Year

This season, Rivera has led Northern to its most wins since the 2002 season. The Wildcats’ currently have four wins and could get five with a win this Saturday. This could be the beginning of a turnaround for a struggling NMU football program that resides in what is arguably the nation’s top Division-II conference.

Through nine games this season, Rivera has thrown for 2,038 yards on 151-of-272 passing, with 18 touchdowns and just four interceptions.

With two touchdowns in his final game, Rivera would become the only NMU quarterback to ever pass for 20+ touchdowns in back-to-back seasons.

Unlike past years, Rivera has been aided by a potent running attack. Bossuah legs have helped carry the team through most of the season.

This season, Bossuah has rushed for 1,211 yards and 11 touchdowns. The yardage total ranks second in the GLIAC.

“It helps out a lot having a quarterback like Buddy,” Bossuah said. “I think we complement each other well. Teams just can’t focus on one of us and I think he sometimes draws the defense’s attention away from the running game.”

The Road Ahead

Although this is Rivera’s last season in a Wildcat uniform, it may not be the end of the line for the quarterback. Rivera may still have the opportunity and chance of playing football beyond the collegiate level, possibly in the Arena League.

Rivera said he has already heard some interest from Arena League coaches.

Rivera’s final collegiate game is against the No.1 Grand Valley State Lakers on Saturday, and the quarterback has a chance to knock off the team that once wanted to line him up as a wideout.

A win this Saturday could make up for some of the past losses, and Rivera could end his collegiate career on a great note.

“I don’t think I’m done playing football yet,” he said. “I don’t want to look back at the game and say if I could have done this or that, I want to look back with no regrets.”