Virginia Tech's Rivers ready to carry on defensive tradition

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Whenever he goes home to North Carolina, or even walks around the Virginia Tech campus, linebacker Barquell Rivers is constantly reminded of "the play." It only took one for Rivers to make a name for himself.

With 7:25 remaining in the FedEx Orange Bowl, Rivers wrapped up Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike at the goal line on fourth-and-goal from the 1.

"It felt real good," Rivers said. "People still talk about that play today. Anytime I go home, people say they've seen that play, and it was a heck of a play."

The Hokies are hoping Rivers is capable of more of the same in 2009, as Virginia Tech will need young linebackers to help fill the void left by graduated starters Brett Warren and Purnell Sturdivant. At 20 years old, Rivers said he will be the oldest returning linebacker the Hokies have. He said his mindset has changed now that he knows he has the opportunity to be a starter.

"I'm very focused," said Rivers, who made 10 tackles in 10 games last season and earned his first start in the Orange Bowl when Warren was injured. "I have to take things more seriously now, study more film, take extra time out to work on my fundamentals and get ready for football season."

Rivers said his performance in the Orange Bowl gave him confidence he can carry into spring football practice as he competes to solidify the starting middle linebacker job vacated by Warren.

"At first I was nervous about playing on the big stage because I didn't memorize all of my assignments at the beginning of the season," Rivers said. "Then at the end of the season I knew all of them, so it was pretty straightforward in the Orange Bowl."

As a redshirt freshman last season, Rivers contributed three rushing tackles, two passing tackles, and made three tackles on the kickoff return team. He learned more than he played.

"I learned a lot," Rivers said. "[Warren] used to come to the sideline and we'd talk about the stuff he'd see in games. We'd talk about that all the time, certain formations, stuff they'd do."

Rivers is the latest in a long line of linebackers eager to play a starting role for defensive coordinator Bud Foster. It's one of the reasons Rivers came to Virginia Tech instead of staying in his home state.

"I just fell in love with coach Foster and his great defense," Rivers said. "I want him to make me a better player also. It seems like he gets the greatest output of the linebackers he's coached. ... I want to continue the tradition as long as I possibly can while I'm here because I know the next group that comes in, they'll want to do the same and keep coach Foster at the top of the line in defensive coordinator."