ATHENS, Ala. (WHNT) — In the late 90s, Philip Rivers suited up in the number 17 black and gold jersey for the Athens Golden Eagles. He wore the same number at NC State, and then for 17 incredible seasons in the NFL.

Now Rivers is the head coach at St. Michael down in Fairhope but he came back home to North Alabama on Friday for a preseason matchup against his alma mater.

Rivers says he’s been back here to Athens since he graduated high school, but this was the first time that he’s stepped back on the Larry McCoy Field since his playing days. And although he said he didn’t want this night to be about him, this preseason jamboree was a night he’ll always remember.

“I had on that black helmet the last time I was on this field for a game so it’s going to be different being on the other sideline,” Rivers said. “Being back here where I played high school, went to high school, saw a lot of familiar faces. But being back, it’s awesome for my entire family. My dad coached here, my younger brother played here, and then now my son’s going to be out here in the second half, one of my other sons is a ball boy so it’s kind of recycling what we did 30 years ago back on that same field so it’s awesome to be home.”

Before the game, Athens held a special pregame ceremony and presented Rivers with a replica helmet from his playing days, along with some other Athens gear.

“That helmet is just like the one I wore, it’s the old stripe and that old face mask so it will be in a cool spot in the office back home,” Rivers added.

After a long football career that took him all over, Rivers says that he still fondly cherishes those practices and game days at Athens.

“I tell our players now that I played in a ton of games at every level but some of my favorite memories are high school football and those 30-something games playing here and the people you met are some of my favorite memories. So now I’m getting to coach these boys in that time of their life and hopefully, I can share in some of those and they can create some of those same memories for themselves,” Rivers said.

Rivers, his team, and his family all had to drive down Philip Rivers Drive to get into the stadium on Friday, and that’s something that added to the special day all around.