High school teammates hope to return to Atlanta

Chris Vinel

INDIANAPOLIS — 

D.J. Wonnum loved John Abraham. Chauncey Rivers preferred Michael Vick.

But the difference in favorite player didn’t matter to Wonnum and Rivers, who both grew up in Stone Mountain, Georgia — a little more than a 30-minute drive to Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

They can agree on one thing: they grew up rooting for the Atlanta Falcons.

Now, the former Stephenson High School teammates may have the chance to return home. Wonnum and Rivers are both projected mid-round defensive line prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft, and the Falcons are expected to target pass rushers.

“I loved the Falcons,” said Wonnum, who met with Atlanta in January at the Senior Bowl.

“I still root for the Falcons every year,” Rivers said. “That’s the home team and is one of my favorite teams.”

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Though they have families and friends in Atlanta, both players bolted from the area for college. Wonnum chose South Carolina, and Rivers bounced between Georgia, East Mississippi Community College and finally Mississippi State.

During college, they kept in touch.

“I call him my son,” Rivers said of Wonnum. “I’ve always been older than him (by four months), but we played Pee-Wee football together. That’s my brother. We talk every day.

“So, we’re really like brothers. I mean, his mom is my mom, and my mom is his mom. It’s like a family thing. We grew up together. He’s one of my closest bros.”

When they chatted, they didn’t stick to reminiscing about the old days at Stephenson High or planning their next get-together. They often shared opposing team scouting reports.

“When he played a team and we had to play a team next, I’d go to him and talk to him about what they did and what the scheme was and how he affected the game.” Rivers said.

It must have worked, too.

Other than a junior year partially wiped out to injury, Wonnum saw significant action in every season of his college career. Last season, as a senior, he posted 9.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.

Rivers recorded eight tackles for loss and five sacks in 2019.

Both had successful careers that they’re trying to parlay into NFL opportunities, maybe even with the Falcons.

“Whoever picks me, I’ll be excited to be there,” Wonnum said. “But if Atlanta comes, I mean, it’s home. I know everything around Atlanta."

“That would be a dream come true,” Rivers said.

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