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Cesar Rivas-Sandoval Named Fire Football Coach

Southeastern University is excited to announce that we have hired Cesar Rivas-Sandoval as our new head football coach. He becomes just the second head coach in the history of the program.

Rivas-Sandoval, 42, comes to Southeastern with 20 years of coaching experience on both sides of the ball — as well as on special teams — and includes time at NCAA Divisions I, II, and III institutions, and some experience at the professional level.

Meet Coach Rivas

“My wife, Jennifer, and our three daughters feel beyond blessed for me to be representing Southeastern University as the new head football coach,” said Rivas-Sandoval. “My family is extremely excited to get started here at SEU with our new Fire Family.”

Most recently, Coach Rivas spent six seasons at NCAA Division II Azusa Pacific University, where he worked as the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator. In three of the last five seasons, the Cougars were the Great Northwest Athletic Conference champions, made two playoff appearances, and posted a 40-16 overall record.

“I couldn’t be more thrilled to welcome Coach Rivas to the Fire Family,” said Southeastern University President, Dr. Kent Ingle. “His energy is contagious, and I know he will continue to build out our program and take us to a national championship level.”

On defense, Rivas-Sandoval coached three Cliff Harris Award finalists over the last five seasons. The Cliff Harris Award is given annually to the nation’s top small college defensive player.

“We are excited about beginning a new chapter in Fire football,” said Southeastern University Executive Vice President, Dr. Chris Owen. “We are confident that Coach Rivas will continue our winning tradition.”

Career Experience

During the summer of 2018, Rivas-Sandoval was a guest coach of the Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats, working with the defense. The San Diego native has also been a part of the Bill Walsh Minority Fellowship, working with the Green Bay Packers and Miami Dolphins during two separate summers.

Rivas-Sandoval spent three seasons as a head coach and offensive coordinator at Division II Fort Lewis College in Colorado. At Fort Lewis, he coached quarterback Tim Jenkins who passed for nearly 9,000 yards and went on to play for the St. Louis Rams and the Calgary Stampeders professionally. On the defensive side, he coached the program’s all-time leader in tackles in Phil O’Dell.

“As I spent time getting to know Cesar, it quickly became clear to me that he would be a perfect fit for Southeastern University football,” said SEU Director of Athletics Drew Watson. “His experience is impressive, but what sets him apart is his desire that he and his staff build life-changing relationships with student-athletes. On the field, I am looking forward to watching our program flourish into a perennial national championship contender under his leadership.”

As a special teams coordinator at the University of Tennessee at Martin, Rivas-Sandoval coached a punt returner and punter that both ranked in the top 20 at their position in average yardage during the 2008 season. At Nebraska Kearney, the kick return unit ranked fifth nationally and the kick return defense was 14th nationally.

In all, five players that Rivas-Sandoval has directly coached have gone on to play professionally in either the NFL or CFL. Five players he has coached have been named conference player of the year, and six have earned All-American status.

New Season of Fire Football

“A special thank you goes to Southeastern University’s President Dr. Kent Ingle, Executive Vice President Dr. Chris Owen and Director of Athletics Drew Watson for their belief and trust in me to lead what I know is an amazing group of young men representing Fire football, Southeastern University, and the Lakeland community,” said Rivas-Sandoval. “I would also like to thank Azusa Pacific University, Head Coach Victor Santa Cruz, Athletic Director Gary Pine, and our entire APU Football community for their love and support over these past six years.”

Rivas-Sandoval takes over a program that has won four conference championships in its first six seasons of competition and has made two NAIA Football Championship Series appearances. The Fire went 8-1 during the 2019 season and had 16 All-Mid-South Sun Division players.

“Coach Keith Barefield and the rest of the Fire football staff have done an amazing job of building what is now the premier place to receive a Christ-centered college education, while playing an exciting, high level of college football in Florida,” said Rivas-Sandoval. “I look forward to taking what has been established and continue to build, alongside our Lakeland community, a football program focused on transforming lives through our faith, while building life champions on and off the field.”

Coach Rivas will officially be introduced at a press conference today (Monday, January 6, 2020) at 2:30 p.m. in the Buena Vida Auditorium on the university’s campus. The event is open to the public. You can also watch the press conference live here.

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