DJ Wonnum loved John Abraham. Chauncey Rivers preferred Michael Vick.
Wonnum and Rivers, who both grew up in Stone Mountain, Georgia, didn’t play a role in the favorite player, however – just over a 30-minute drive from the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
They all agree on one thing: They grew up with the Atlanta Falcons.
Now, former Stephenson High School teammates may have a chance to return home. Wonnum and Rivers are both projected mid-round views of the line of defense in the 2020 NFL Draft, and the Falcons are expected to target pass rushers.
“I loved the Falcons,” said Wonnum, who met with Atlanta at the Senior Bowl in January.
“I still defend the Falcons every year,” said Rivers. “This is the home team and one of my favorite teams.”
Despite having families and friends in Atlanta, both players have fled the area for college. Wonnum chose South Carolina, and Rivers rebounded between Georgia, East Mississippi Community College, and eventually the state of Mississippi.
They kept in touch during their studies.
“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. This is my brother. We talk every day.
“So we’re really like brothers. I mean his mother is my mother and my mother is his mother. It’s like a family thing. We grew up together. He is one of my closest brothers. “
When they talked, they didn’t stop to remember the old days at Stephenson High or plan their next meeting. They often shared scouting reports from opposing teams.
“When he was playing against a team and we had to play a team next, I went to him and talked to him about what they did, what the plan was and how it had affected the game.” Rivers said.
It must have worked too.
Aside from one junior year, which was partially wiped out due to injury, Wonnum saw significant promotions every season of his college career. Last season as a senior, he scored 9.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.
Rivers recorded eight loss tackles and five sacks in 2019.
Both have had successful careers trying to invest in NFL opportunities, maybe even with the Falcons.
“Whoever chooses me, I’m happy to be there,” said Wonnum. “But when Atlanta comes, I mean it’s home. I know everything about Atlanta. “
“That would be a dream come true,” said Rivers.