Elite trojan
By Jim Thomas

Southern California's Keith Rivers, top, is tackled by quarterback Casey Paus after Rivers intercepted his pass in the second half of a college football game in Los Angeles. Rivers is a top prospect in the 2008 NFL Draft.
(File photo/AP)

At the end of last season, Southern California coach Pete Carroll referred to Keith Rivers as the "model Trojan." More precisely, Rivers proved to be the model Trojans linebacker.

Only the best USC linebackers get to wear jersey No. 55. Rivers joined the ranks of Willie McGinest, Junior Seau and Chris Claiborne in wearing that number for the Trojans.

"That's a big tradition," Rivers said. "Great linebackers have worn it and made it proud. I was honored to have it, and tried to do my best to live up to it."

When Rivers was awarded No. 55, all the other 55s from Southern Cal were notified. "It hadn't been worn in a few years," Rivers said.

He has talked to McGinest the most since joining the 55 fraternity.

"He talked to me about living up to the number," Rivers said. "He talked to me a lot about how to go about my senior season. He just checks in on me, making sure I'm staying up on my P's and Q's."

Rivers might have been a first-round pick had he turned pro after the '06 season. But like USC quarterback Matt Leinart before him, he returned for his senior year.

Lots of draft prospects, particularly elite prospects, take off the second semester of the school year to prepare for the draft.

"If I was going to take off this spring semester, I should have just left last year," Rivers said. "If I'm going to come back for my senior year, it's going to be to get a degree.

"I'm taking two classes right now, and I have one math, and I'll be finished. ... I'm studying public policy development, which is kind of like real estate."

Rivers, who can play all three linebacker positions, shouldn't have to worry about real estate for a while. Unless, that is, he wants to buy a new house with his signing bonus money. He will be the first linebacker selected in the draft Saturday and looks like a certain top 10 pick.