WINDSOR, Conn. (WTNH) – The Windsor High School football team took to the field on Friday night to honor their beloved team member, 15-year-old Elijah-Jay Mariano Rivera, who died unexpectedly last week.
Mariano Rivera was a junior at Windsor High School. He collapsed during drills at a non-contact football practice on Oct. 10. He was then taken to Connecticut Children’s, where he died.
The football team held a ceremony ahead of their game against the Newington High School football team to honor the life of Mariano Rivera.
His parents, Jay Rivera and Chas Hernandez, did the coin toss before the game. His parents, coaches and teammates participated in a moment of silence as they remembered him.
“I couldn’t stop thinking of him, and his beautiful smile, and his big hands, that’s exactly what I was thinking about,” Jay Rivera said. “I can feel his big hands on my shoulder,”
Mariano Rivera’s teammates carried his jersey, number 65, through the rain to present to his family.
His teammates called him Big Texas, as he was born in Texas and stood 6’4″ at only 15 years old.
“It’s what the team called him when he first got here. He is a big kid, 6″ 4, and he came here just over 300 pounds. He had just a big smile, and everything about him is big, and you know everything is bigger in Texas.”
He also had a big heart. After he collapsed on the football field during practice, his mother picked up his backpack from school and was surprised to find his teammates’ homework in his backpack. He had been helping them in class.
“Two kids [assignments] actually, were in his backpack,” Hernandez said. “I went through it and saw Jack’s and another kid’s, too. He was just checking up on people and making sure they were OK; that’s the relationship he had, and we are proud of that. We are proud that he was out there doing that, showing that love.”
Newington players crossed the turf to show respect, their love shining on the field, on the family, pushing back the darkness in the rain.
“To help us kind of get through this, we feel his love through everything they’re doing for us,” River said. “His legacy lives on in that fashion.”
Rivera said the family will still attend the Windsor High School football games to support the team.
“We’re just so grateful for the Windsor High School football team and the coaches in the community, everybody, it’s been so great,” Hernandez said.