AP Top 25 College Football
If Mychal Rivera has looked a step or two slow in practice this week, it's probably because he's got a Neyland Stadium-sized chip on his shoulder.
"I'm just real focused," the Tennessee tight end said.
"Trying to get the victory, that's first and foremost, and I'm just trying to go out and show everybody what I'm about and what they missed out on."
"They" would be Oregon, where Rivera originally signed out of Birmingham High School in Los Angeles in 2008.
He'll get a shot at his old team Saturday night when the Vols play host to the seventh-ranked Ducks (TV: ESPN2, 7 p.m.)
Rivera, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound sophomore, redshirted his freshman season before leaving the program in April of 2009. He spent last season at College of the Canyons in Valencia, Calif., and signed with UT in February.
"Out of high school that was a great program," Rivera said. "After (former Oregon) Coach (Mike) Bellotti left, the program just wasn't fit for me anymore. It changed a lot, and I just looked otherwise.
"It changed in certain ways that I wasn't really on the depth chart too much. I was getting overlooked, and I really didn't feel like I had a shot (to play). So I made a decision for me and my family and I left.
"After that I did the junior college route to bounce back and I ended up here."
Rivera played extensively in UT's season-opening win over UT Martin on special teams and UT's two-tight-end set. He caught one pass for seven yards and fielded the short kickoff to open the game.
With his first college game under his belt, he enters Saturday with something to prove.
"Oh yeah, of course," he said.
"That's how life is, everybody tells you you can't do something and you have to prove them wrong. That's what this game is for me, and that's how my life is, proving everybody wrong that doubted me."
But to say Rivera views Saturday simply as a shot at his old team would be an understatement.
Not only has he been counting down the days to when the Vols play Oregon, the opportunity to prove himself factored into his decision to pick UT over offers from South Carolina and Kansas State.
"Since I had my (scholarship) offer from Tennessee," Rivera said, "I looked the schedule up, I (saw) Oregon, I said, 'I have to come here.'
"Yeah, I'm not going to lie, it did (influence his decision). That wasn't my sole reason for coming here, (but) I saw that and that added a little bit, you could say."
Rivera said he doesn't really keep in contact with many of his former teammates. He's also gotten rid of most of his old Oregon gear and keeps the leftovers in the back of his closet.
He also knows he can't allow his personal feelings and emotions interfere with how he plays on the field Saturday, so he's upping the ante in practice this week.
"I know the harder I work in practice, the better I'll do in the game," Rivera said.
"The more I think about Oregon, the more I want to catch more balls in practice, hit people harder in practice, cause I know it's going to turn over to the game."
Patrick Brown is a freelance contributor.