LUBBOCK, Texas – Gabe Rivera, the Texas Tech Ring of Honor member known by fans as "Señor Sack" throughout his Red Raider career, passed away late Monday night at the age of 57.
"The entire Red Raider family is saddened by the loss of Gabe Rivera," Director of Athletics Kirby Hocutt said. "He was one of the most dominating defensive lineman to ever play the game and a loyal Red Raider throughout his life. He will be missed and our thoughts and prayers are with his family."
Rivera, renowned as one of the most feared defensive linemen in the country during his Red Raider career from 1979-82, passed away in his hometown of San Antonio, Texas, after falling ill last weekend.
Rivera remains one of the most decorated football student-athletes in school history as he was named to the National Football Foundation's College Football Hall of Fame in 2012 and then the Texas Tech Ring of Honor in 2014. The Ring of Honor is the highest honor a Red Raider can earn in his career.
"Donnie Laurence recruited Gabe when I was the defensive coordinator at the time," said Jim Bates, a Tech assistant coach and defensive coordinator from 1978-83. "When we signed him, we knew we had a great football player, but we didn't know how great he was until he got here."
A graduate of San Antonio Jefferson, Rivera didn't waste much time before impressing not only Bates but Red Raider fans in general. In fact, Bates recounts it only took the opening drive of the 1979 season opener against No. 1 Southern California before Bates realized just how special of a nose guard he had.
"(USC quarterback Paul) McDonald ran around the left end, and Gabe ran all the way from his defensive tackle position to blow him up on the sideline," Bates remembers the play. "It was a remarkable play for a defensive tackle. I looked over at the guys and said 'we have one here.'"
Rivera went on to leave a lasting legacy as a Red Raider, compiling 321 career tackles over the next four seasons, including 34 that went for a loss. He earned the "Señor Sack" nickname after punishing quarterbacks to a tune of 14 sacks over his career. He also added 11 pass deflections and six fumble recoveries from his spot in the middle.
Rivera combined for 105 career tackles en route to being named a consensus All-American following his senior season in 1982. He posted 10 tackles for a loss, including five sacks, that season, while adding 25 quarterback pressures and eight pass breakups.
"I can't say enough about his football ability and what a great teammate he was," Bates said. "He was a pleasure to coach. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family at this time."
Rivera, who was also an honorable mention All-American as a sophomore in 1980, was recognized as the Southwest Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 1982 before being selected 21st overall in the 1983 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
His career came to a sad halt early in his rookie season when he was injured in a car accident just outside of Pittsburgh. Rivera was paralyzed from the waist down, ending his NFL aspirations.
Since then, Rivera remained close to his alma mater, returning for several football games in the years following the accident. He was inducted into the Texas Tech Hall of Fame in 1993 and is currently on the ballot for the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.
"He is obviously a big name in Texas Tech history. Everyone knew who Señor Sack was," said Ron Reeves, who was a quarterback at Tech at the same time as Rivera. "I think he did a great job in staying involved at Tech. It was a highlight for a lot of us every time Gabe came back for a weekend."
Rivera is survived by his wife Nancy and his two children, Timothy and Rae. Funeral services are pending at this time.
To honor Rivera, Texas Tech will wear a special helmet sticker throughout the 2018 football season.