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Rivers has drive to do right by 55

December 31, 2007|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

USC linebacker Keith Rivers remembers the words and the kindly insistent tone the future Pro Bowl player used to deliver them.

"C'mon," then-teammate Lofa Tatupu said when the freshman Rivers hesitated during a drill. "Fifty-five means too much."

Tatupu was referring to the No. 55 jersey that USC coaches bestowed upon Rivers when he arrived on campus in 2004 from Lake Mary, Fla. Trojans linebackers such as Junior Seau, Willie McGinest and Chris Claiborne, all of who were top 10 NFL draft picks, had worn 55.

On Sunday, with his final game for the Trojans only two days away, Rivers said he hoped he had represented the "55" tradition well.

"I hope I embodied it," said Rivers, a three-year starter and team captain.

After the 2006 season, the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Rivers had pondered following the lead of Tatupu, who turned pro after his junior season two years before. But Rivers returned, fought through a season-long ankle problem, and was selected to two All-American teams this month.

Rivers said part of the reason he came back was because "I didn't want to be a 55 that people just forgot about. I didn't want people to think they gave it to Willie McGinest, Junior Seau, Chris Claiborne and some other guy. I wouldn't want to be 'some other guy.' "

Rivers wants to be in the starting lineup Tuesday when the sixth-ranked Trojans play 13th-ranked Illinois in the Rose Bowl. The high left ankle sprain that slowed him through much of the season kept him sidelined during early bowl preparation. But Rivers has shown better movement this week and figures to start against the Fighting Illini.

"We'll take it all the way up to game time," Coach Pete Carroll said.

Fifth-year senior Drew Radovich, who started last year's Rose Bowl game at left guard, moved this season to right tackle and will conclude his career against the Fighting Illini.

"Playing two positions was pretty cool," said Radovich, who has been invited to the East-West Shrine Game. "When they bumped me out to tackle I was stoked. I like that competition, knowing you're on the edge. Knowing you're on an island" in a one-on-one matchup against a defensive end.

Radovich suffered several hip and back injuries during his career -- he redshirted in 2005 after having hip surgery -- but overcame the setbacks and will start for the 25th time in 26 games.

"I was a very confused 18-year-old with a really jacked-up haircut from Mission Viejo when I got here," he said. " I was immature and I didn't know what I was doing. I think I've grown as a football player and person through what I've gone through here, especially the hardships."

Senior Chauncey Washington will start at tailback, Carroll said. Washington, the Trojans' leading rusher the last two seasons, sat out most of the bowl preparation because of a hip injury but has practiced at full speed the last five days. . . . Wide receiver Patrick Turner (quadriceps) attempted to practice for the second day in a row, but is far from sound. "It still isn't full speed yet so it's going to be hard for him to be able to contribute," Carroll said. . . . The Trojans concluded their final workout of the season with seniors running through a tunnel of teammates to the practice field gate. "They're very proud of their time here," Carroll said. "It's really awesome to see them appreciate it. A little symbolic tribute on the way out the door."

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