By the time Oakland Raiders coach Jack Del Rio hit his stride as a high school football player in the early 1980s, Ron Rivera knew who he was.
Del Rio was a standout three-sport athlete at Hayward High, where he was making headlines at linebacker by the time he was a junior. Rivera was doing the same as a standout senior linebacker at Seaside High.
Rivera said Wednesday that everyone knew Del Rio, based on how often his name was in the newspaper.
“Jack was the only junior on the all-Northern California football team. Everybody knew who Jack was,” said Rivera. “I was fortunate enough to be on that team. But Jack had established himself. You knew who Jack was, then he went to (Southern Cal) and that was a really big deal.”
Del Rio, who spent the 2002 season as the Panthers’ defensive coordinator in John Fox’s first season with Carolina, said the same about Rivera on a conference call on Wednesday.
“Ron was a heck of a player,” Del Rio said. “We were two outside linebackers kind of in the same era. I read his name in the paper a lot.”
Rivera, of course, went to Cal and was 0-3 against USC during his time there.
Decades later, the two will face off in Oakland on Sunday as the Panthers (4-6) take on the Raiders (8-2).
Del Rio became the head coach of the Raiders in 2015, and Rivera said he’s perfect for the job.
“I’m really happy for Jack,” he said. “I’ve always said this, if there’s a guy who could do a really good job there it’s him. Because he grew up in Hayward. He understands what it’s all about.”