Riva: "I don’t wish what we had to go through on any other high school kid."
Enjoyed catching up with former UW right tackle Ben Riva, who has made a quick and smooth transition to life after football. He won’t live out an erstwhile dream of playing in the NFL, but he’s on a new path to success in another competitive, chaotic venture.
Riva, who has lost 65 pounds since January’s Cactus Bowl, has already secured a job at Jones Trading in San Francisco and is scheduled next month to take his final federal exam to become a stockbroker. He’s working and studying from 3 a.m. to 2 p.m. most days now, but he was gracious enough to take some time last week to look back at his UW career:
“My whole thing when I was playing football was there was always more to life than football,” he said. “For a lot of people that play, and maybe for a lot of fans, that’s hard to understand. There’s a lot that goes into it. I always knew the train would end eventually and when it did end I wanted to have my health. I had to work my (butt) off to gain weight and I always told myself when it was all said and done that I was going to get it off. And so once I realized football was over for me after the whole knee thing and then breaking my ankle at Cal — once that happened, I was like, You know what, this is it. I’m over it. It’s not worth it.”
Riva had “a crazy list” of injuries at UW. He explains: “My freshman year, I broke my foot. I had three stress fractures in my back. I broke my ankle. I wore out the cartilage in my knee. I broke my left arm my sophomore year and came back and played in five weeks.”
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In 2010, Riva came to UW as part of a big recruiting class that featured fellow linemen James Atoe, Mike Criste, Micah Hatchie, Erik Kohler, Colin Porter and Colin Tanigawa. (That’s a ton of young talent, almost literally.)
Riva recalls some early words from then-line coach Dan Cozzetto, who told his new group that some of them were going to have to play as freshmen. Porter, the Bothell High product, started six games that fall as a true freshman and all 13 games the next season; Kohler started five games as a true freshman and all 13 games the next season. Injuries mounted and both Porter and Kohler ended up “retiring” early.
Riva played in 10 games as a redshirt freshman in 2011 and took over as the regular starter at right tackle in 2012.
“It’s very rare for a kid out of high school to be physically ready to play, and it’s even more rare for a kid to be mentally ready to play, especially as a lineman, out of high school,” he said. “You hear about fans talking about these kids coming and playing right away and it makes me sick. I really wish every kid did get to redshirt a year and got some time to figure things out on their own. For myself and for ‘Panda’ (Tanigawa) and Colin and Erik, you know, we had to pick it up early and had to grow up quickly. It was really hard. And it’s going to be hard, yeah, but I don’t wish what we had to go through on any other high school kid.
“There’s so much that goes into,” he added. “You look at Ohio State and any other of these prominent programs and most of the linemen they have playing are juniors or seniors, or they’re one of those genetic freaks. That’s the thing that made me mad — our fans always complained about the line. I just wish for a day they could see what goes into it — see the hand we were dealt and what we did with it. … I think every fan base would be better if they really understood what these guys put into it. At the end of the day we’re 18- to 22-year-old kids, and to have your life squared away at that age and be completely dialed in on everything that’s going on is very rare.”
Riva said he felt “lucky” to get the chance to work with coach Chris Petersen and line coach Chris Strausser, if only for one frustrating season.
“The coaches were great about it and I was lucky to have them,” he said. “They were disappointment in a sense that it was my senior year and they were looking for me to have a big year and all that. And I was too. So they were great throughout the whole process and Coach Pete would always check in with me, every day, wondering how I was doing.”
A knee injury kept Riva out for four of UW’s first five games last fall. Once he knee finally felt a bit better, another bad break in Berkeley:
“(The knee) was feeling better; it still wasn’t all the way there, but I wanted to be out there and help, because I knew I could bring something to the field,” he said. “And so we’re at Cal and the second play of the game, it was one of their middle linebackers ran through and Panda just buried the guy into the back of my leg. It looks pretty nasty on film; even Strausser was pretty impressed I didn’t break my leg. But I just trashed my ankle. I was laying on the turf there and it was straight. So I stood up and did one more play. (Laughs.) I kind of stood up and put both my arms out and it looked so stupid. … I thought it was a sprain and all our trainers thought it was a sprain at first. They (taped) it up and tried to get me to move around and it wasn’t happening. I felt awful. I felt like such a (wimp). We get back to Seattle and the next day my ankle was just purple and yellow. I was like, ‘What the hell?’ So we go do an MRI … and Rob (Scheidegger, UW’s head trainer) calls me (later) and says, ‘Yeah, you fractured your talus and you messed up a bunch of ligaments pretty good.’ … I was pretty down on life. You put so much into this and you hope you get something out of it. I was feeling sorry for myself for a couple weeks. Then it hit me: What do I have to feel sorry for? There’s so much more in this world than football. I could still form a sentence and read at a half-decent level, so started looking into the jobs more.”
A friend at UW had earlier introduced Riva to the idea of Wall Street and it gradually started to root. That friend wound up getting a financing job in New York and helped Riva with networking opportunities there. It didn’t take long for Riva to land with Jones Trading, and he’ll move to San Francisco to start there later this summer.
No, the NFL isn’t happening for Riva, and he’s OK with that. But he is well on his way to being a player on Wall Street.