Elijah Rivera remembers the long afternoons that stretched into nights.
Then, only a seventh-grader, Rivera recalls doing double sessions when he first started wrestling as a member of both the Bay Shore Middle School and Bay Shore Kid programs under the guidance of coaches Alex Porcelli, Rob Thompson and Dan Atkins.
Rivera and teammates Keon Ayala, Alex Cerda, and Ethan Scully would go from middle school practice to the wrestling room at the Fifth Avenue Elementary School.
“We’d go into that basement,” Rivera said, “where the legends were.”
Rivera mentioned past Marauder standouts such as former coach Jumper Leggio and Porcelli, the Bay Shore varsity coach. Five years later, Rivera put himself into the same sentence as those preeminent Marauders.
The 18-year-old became the first Bay Shore wrestler to win a state championship since 1983 after his thrilling 6-4 sudden-victory win against Chenango Forks freshman Tyler Ferrara at the Times Union Center in Albany last Saturday.
“I was in total shock. I kind of blacked out,” said Rivera, Newsday’s Athlete of the Week. “I was looking for my coaches, and looking at the crowd, and then I had my hand raised.”
Rivera capped his senior season with the state title and a 37-3 record. His incredible four-year varsity career record stands at 141-16. Rivera is Bay Shore’s fourth overall champ and first since Rob Hubbard won at 167 pounds.
Bay Shore, Suffolk’s oldest public high school wrestling program, just completed its 89th season, and Rivera graduates as its all-time leader in wins and pins (77), according to Newsday’s high school historian Andy Slawson.
Rivera said the toughest part of the season came in January when he competed for the first time in the prestigious Eastern States Classic and finished sixth. Still, Rivera never lost a dual-meet bout during the regular season after ninth grade, according to Porcelli.
“We always knew he was talented, even in seventh and eighth grade. He was like a sponge -- he listened and took everything in,” Porcelli said. “Elijah will have his name on our [wrestling] wall . . . . he’ll be among the greats of Bay Shore.”
Rivera’s father, Jay, works for First Round Management, a sports agency that represents professional athletes. UFC welterweight Jorge Masvidal sent Rivera a pep-talk video before his championship bout.
Former UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley posted the video of Rivera’s title match on his Instagram story. Current and two-time undisputed UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones gave Rivera a congratulatory call the day after his historic win.
While Rivera appreciates the support, he is just as happy to hear his name mentioned with Bay Shore greats he idolized as a youngster.
“This literally means the world to me,” Rivera said. “Since seventh grade I’ve looked up to the Bay Shore legends like Jumper Leggio and Coach Porcelli. . . . They represented Bay Shore and they are the most outstanding men. It’s an honor to be in their company."