Following in the footsteps of standout linebackers such as Willie McGinest and the late Junior Seau, Keith Rivers wore No. 55 during his college playing days at Southern California. Unfortunately, Rivers has yet to enjoy the same NFL success as his predecessors as the No. 9 overall pick in the 2008 draft.
After four injury-plagued seasons in Cincinnati, Rivers was traded in April to the New York Giants. Rivers, 26, already is making the most of his new opportunity. He was one of the few bright spots in New York’s 24-17 loss to Dallas in Week 1 with seven tackles while starting in place of the injured Michael Boley.
Rivers spoke with FOXSports.com’s Alex Marvez this week about joining the Giants, his time with the Bengals, how he was affected by Seau’s suicide in May and what his plans are for life after football.
Q: What are the things about this New York Giants defense that play to your strengths?
Rivers: They let me run. That’s my biggest asset — playing sideline to sideline.
Q: What did it mean to have a fresh start with the Giants after four seasons with the Bengals?
Rivers: It felt great. It’s a new beginning. My rookie year, I was having a good year and I got hurt. Things just didn’t really work out in Cincinnati. I just didn’t see eye to eye with the powers that be there, so it’s a great chance to have a do-over.
Q: What can you tell me about the new linebackers you’re playing with?
Rivers: They’re all good guys. They all can play. Spencer (Paysinger) is great because we live close to each other in LA, so it’s good to have a guy you know and hang out with in the offseason.
Q: Do you have a nickname?
Rivers: In college, Ken Norton Jr. used to call me The Shark.
Q: How important is it for you to wear the No. 55?
Rivers: It’s very important. Coming into college, being from the East Coast you really didn’t get to know the importance of it because you didn’t get to see (USC) as much. When I got there, you knew but you didn’t know. The more you learned about how significant it was and what it means to wear it at SC, it’s always been important for me to try and keep the number.
Q: How were you affected by Junior Seau’s passing?
Rivers: I was pretty shaken up. I was just at his charity event a year ago. I had my Rose Bowl jersey from my senior year that I wanted to get signed. I was in a hurry and forgot it, so it was like, "I’ll get it done next time." It’s crazy. I’ll never be able to get that.
Q: What is your hobby outside of football?
Rivers: I don’t really do much. I just go to dinner with my friends and whatnot. But I do like to read (about) business. I plan on possibly getting my MBA after it’s all said and done.
Q: Finally, you’ve been through plenty of ups and downs in your NFL career. What is the best advice you can give to a high draft choice like yourself who is first coming into the league?
Rivers: I got hurt (in Cincinnati), and I didn’t follow the advice I was given as well as I should have. A buddy of mine told me, "Grow in what you know." It means staying focused on your craft. For me, it was a situation where I had to rededicate myself to my craft. You can get lost in the routine of everything instead of making it a commitment. You should take every day like you may never play again.