DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
After missing the 2005 season, Jason Rivers is trying to get back to the form he displayed in 2004, when he caught 80 passes.
Rivers catching on
UH's Jason Rivers says he's motivated to get back on the field
JASON Rivers isn't among the 115 football players officially in camp for Hawaii spring football drills scheduled to start today at the Manoa campus. He hopes to be there soon.
But he's enrolled at UH, and he's attending classes.
As far as the junior wide receiver from Saint Louis School and Waipahu is concerned, that's a good start.
"I have a financial obligation (with UH) to take care of, and then I'll be cleared to practice," said Rivers, who is no longer on scholarship. "I'm hoping that will be done in time for the second week of spring practice."
At the end of the 2004 season, Rivers was poised to become UH's top receiver.
Chad Owens, the program's career receptions leader, had just completed his eligibility. Rivers, who caught 80 passes that year as a sophomore -- including 11 for 148 yards and a touchdown in the Hawaii Bowl, his last game -- was expected to become the No. 1 target for whoever took over for record-setting quarterback Tim Chang. After just two seasons, Rivers was already 14th on UH's career receiving-yards list.
But while he developed his talent on the football field, Rivers simply stopped going to classes.
"If you don't have the motivation to do the work, then it's not going to get done," he said.
The academic negligence caught up with him, and he was suspended from school. Then, Rivers severely injured his right ankle in a mo-ped accident.
He took classes at a community college to get back on track, and underwent surgery on the ankle. Then Rivers took last semester off to contemplate his future.
"That gave me a lot of time to think about what I really wanted in life. College is not for everybody. If you can do it and you want to do it, that's the whole key. You have to want to do it," he said at an informal workout with other UH players last week.
He decided to try to get back on the team, and coach June Jones gave him a second chance.
Now it's up to Rivers to make the most of it. Receivers coach Ron Lee said absence from the first week of spring drills isn't a good start on the comeback trail.
"Missing part of spring is definitely hurting him. He's been out a year and we don't know where he's at. It's awfully competitive at X and Z (the wide receiver positions). I hope he hasn't lost a step," Lee said. "I think he's motivated. But the situation is a lot different than it was when he came in. He was an exceptional player as a young guy, but we didn't miss him last year. He has to show us."
It's a crowded depth chart on both sides, with returning starters Chad Mock and Ross Dickerson being pushed by Mike Washington, Dylan Linkner, Ian Sample and others.
"I'm probably at the bottom," Rivers said. "But that's not really one of my concerns now. Someone coming back knows they have to work hard to get back to where they were before. I'm mostly concerned about my ankle, rehabbing it, getting it stronger. As far as the depth chart is concerned, (missing the first week) might not help me. The most important thing is I'm ready for fall."
Now, he goes to every class and said he enjoys it.
"It feels better than it ever felt. I have an appreciation now for what I got. In the past I might have taken it nonchalantly, just going through the motions. Now that I'm back and working for it I'm a lot more appreciative for it," Rivers said.
"It's a trip. You go to class and everything's smooth and nice and easy. You wonder why you couldn't do it before."
Thousands of college students don't make it academically every year for a variety of reasons. Rivers said he doesn't think it is unfair that the scholastic misfortunes of student-athletes often become public knowledge.
"Some of us see that in a negative way. But (school) is the most positive thing that we do have as student-athletes. Coaches emphasize it. We have tutors, we have all the help we need," Rivers said.
"We're not here to play football. We're here to get an education. Football is secondary. Even after college, if you're fortunate enough to make it, football's temporary. You have to have something after that.
"School is the true blessing in the whole picture.