On the whole, Tony Rivera would rather Phillipsburg stay on the ground in football.
“I wouldn’t say run blocking is easier, but I like it better than pass blocking,” said the Stateliner senior two-way tackle. “When you’re pass blocking, you have to wait for the for the (opponent) to come to me. When you’re run blocking, you run right at the guy you’re blocking.”
And Rivera embraces the physicality of both of his positions as Phillipsburg (3-1 overall, 2-0 Mid-State 38 Delaware Division) prepares to host Bridgewater-Raritan (1-3, 1-2) in a divisional clash at Maloney Stadium Friday night (7).
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Rivera has emerged as a stalwart on both sides of the ball for the Stateliners. On offense, his performance has helped senior quarterback Jack Stagaard enjoy the kind of protection to throw for 734 yards and six touchdowns, while senior tailback Joe Green has averaged over 100 yards a game (425 total).
On defense, Rivera mans the spot once held by Robert Melise -- an active, aggressive tackle -- leading a Stateliner defense that has been, for the most part, very stingy against the run.
“My role is to make sure nothing comes the middle on running plays and crush the pocket on passes and get in the quarterback’s face,” Rivera said. “We can’t lose gap control on defense, because if we do a two-yard gain can go for five or 10 yards or even become an explosive play.”
Rivera saw some time as a junior but has transformed into a foundation of the 2018 team.,
“Tony has really come into his own as a player over the last couple of years,” Phillipsburg head coach Frank Duffy said.
Duffy said Rivera can play anywhere on the offensive line, a versatility he appreciates.
“With the line it was just a matter of getting our best five players on the field and that wound up being with Tony at tackle,” Duffy said. “Tackles have to deal with the other team’s best pass rushers and our pass protection has been excellent.”
Rivera said he’s flexible.,
“I’ll play whatever position they need,” he said. “I had to work hard to earn the trust of the coaches and show them I was ready to play.”
Rivera said he was able to do so because of his off-season efforts.
“A lot of being ready to play this year had me getting into the weight room and putting my nose on the grindstone,” he said. “I had to learn what I needed to do to be more physical and play more physical. I had to learn the plays better, and I know them a lot better now.”
Being an offensive lineman for Phillipsburg and learning all those plays requires a lot of the kind of work that isn’t, perhaps, the most exciting.
“We do a lot of reps at practice and we’ll do so many against every kind of front the other team will show,” Rivera said. “So by Friday, no matter front they show, we’ll be ready, Whatever they show, we can get the job done.”
Tony Rivera has been getting his job done on both sides of the ball all season for Phillipsburg.
Brad Wilson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.