55 Knows No Speed Limit
Oct. 15, 2004
by Jeffrey Treem, USC Sports Information Student Assistant
At USC, the No. 55 jersey has its own history, a legacy of greatness. It has been draped over the shoulders of All-Americans and Pac-10 Player of the Year winners. Quarterbacks fear it and offensive coordinators game plan against it. To wear the "55" is a great honor and a tremendous responsibility.
Freshmen linebacker Keith Rivers knew all of this when he pulled on his Trojan uniform for the first time, but the young man from Lake Mary (Fla.) High embraces the pressure and expectations that come with the storied jersey.
"They asked me if I wanted it and I was not going to turn it down," said the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Rivers. "You can't be about to wear it and not be good."
Rivers will follow in the path of USC No. 55 greats like Junior Seau (1988-89), a 12-time NFL All-Pro linebacker, Willie McGinest (1990-93), an 11-year NFL veteran and All-Pro who has the third-most postseason sacks in NFL history, and Chris Claiborne (1996-98), the school's first Butkus Award winner now playing for the Minnesota Vikings in his sixth NFL season.
Few people on USC's roster have traveled as far to join the Trojans as Rivers, who hails from a small suburb just 25 miles north of Walt Disney World and Orlando. While the team is filled with local talent -- 81 players are from California -- Rivers is the Trojans' sole representative of the Sunshine State (though he was born in Riverside, Calif.).
There is no shortage of premier college football programs in Florida, but for Rivers it was the people he met on his visit to Southern California that made the difference.
"All of the players out here are really open, good people and the guys take you in and make you feel like you are right at home," he said. "I felt that this is a good place that I could feel at home at."
Rivers has relied on his teammates to help him adjust to his new surroundings off the football field. While Florida and California both boast plenty of sunshine, gorgeous beaches and a bounty of citrus fruit, the similarities end with the sun and the quality of the orange juice.
"There are two different types of cultures," said Rivers. "People out here are a lot cooler and a lot more laid back."
Yet despite all the differences between life in central Florida and life in Los Angeles, Rivers sees one major similarity between cities on opposite sides of the country.
"Football is football," Rivers said.
It is Rivers' unique football skills that motivated USC coaches to travel thousands of miles to check out the USA Today All-USA First Team and Parade All-American linebacker. For the coaching staff it was clear from the start what would make Rivers a special player.
"Speed," said USC linebackers coach Rocky Seto. "Speed, his explosiveness and being a raw athlete at linebacker."
Seto saw it as a teammate of Claiborne's when he played for the Trojans in 1997 and 1998 and is seeing it again in Rivers.
While Rivers is still learning the system at USC and adjusting to the differences between the high school and college levels, his physical talents have already allowed him to standout from the crowd.
"His has a natural ability of just getting to the ball," Seto said. "An explosiveness and a special ability to just run that makes him different."
Seto and the coaching staff have wasted no time putting Rivers' athleticism to work, playing him in every game thus far in his freshmen season. His physical skills make him a versatile player and he has appeared at defensive end in addition to his work at outside linebacker. Rivers has not been fazed by the switch, recording two sacks at the new position in USC's victory over Stanford, helping to hold the Cardinal scoreless in the second half. He has 10 tackles on the season and a forced fumble to complement his sacks.
"You just want to get the best, fastest guys on the field," said Seto, explaining the move. "We have three talented linebackers that are returning from last year and we are trying to get the best guys on the field at the same time."
For Rivers it does not matter where they put him on the field, he just wants a chance to make an impact.
"My biggest goal," he said, "was just to try to get in here and contribute and I'm doing that a little so I'm achieving my goals."
Already Rivers has impressed the coaching staff with his determination, work ethic and positive attitude. With Rivers gaining more experience each week and continuing to develop his already impressive physical traits, his contributions to the Trojan defense will only increase.
He has had a tremendous start to his USC career, but can Rivers live up to the legacy of No. 55?
"Whatever position I play I just want to be the best at it," he said. "I want to be one of the best college football players to play this game in my time."