Few players must fill a bigger void on the Virginia Tech defense than Dylan Rivers. The former blue-chip prospect finds himself not just playing the position vacated by future first-round NFL Draft pick Tremaine Edmunds, but sitting in the same seat in the meeting room.
“It’s definitely weird going in and sitting in Tremaine’s spot and having Rayshard Ashby sitting next to me in Andrew (Motuapuaka)’s spot, not having those guys to really lean on,” Rivers said. “But we’re young and we’re starting to pick it up a little bit.”
Rivers, a 6-foot-1 and 233-pound sophomore linebacker from Sherando, Va., better pick it quickly. Virginia Tech doesn’t have a game to play anytime soon, but the Hokies’ season opener at Florida State on Sept. 3 gets closer with each day.
Fortunately, Rivers isn’t being introduced to the game this season. He played on multiple special teams units in 2017, a role he advocated for when he arrived at Virginia Tech last summer.
“That was one thing I really wanted to do was play special teams this year, get a feel for the speed of the game,” Rivers said. “Just playing with the guys, trying to build some chemistry with the rest of my teammates.”
Special teams was the crux of Rivers’ baptism in college football. He played in seven games last season, making just three tackles and seeing little time at linebacker. Though Rivers saw very limited time at the position he now plays, head coach Justin Fuente believes his time on special teams will serve him well this season.
“I think it’s big. You take a kid like that who’s a really good student, who’s going to do well in school, that may not need his fifth year to graduate college, is probably going to get it done relatively quickly, you get him on the field, plays in punt situations, plays in kickoff return, was on our kickoff coverage unit, got a feel for the game, for travel and all sorts of things, I just think it’s a good thing and it’s a needed thing,” Fuente said. “We don’t do that just to do it. We do it because we have to have those guys.”
Rivers’ excursion at linebacker this spring got off to a rocky start, but things seem to be heading in the right direction.
“At first, it was rough. Extremely rough,” Rivers said. “But I really feel like I’m starting to come along. From when I first got here in the summer and to now, I feel like I’ve made tremendous strides. I really feel like I’m starting to get it down. Coach (Bud) Foster puts everything in great perspective for us.”
Virginia Tech is in a precarious position at linebacker. The Hokies do not return a single starter or backup from last season at either mike or backer, and there isn’t a junior or senior linebacker on the roster. It’s easily one of the youngest linebacker corps that Fuente or defensive coordinator Bud Foster have ever had, but that doesn’t mean Foster is taking it easy on the young guys.
“No sir. Coach Foster is who he is,” Rivers said. “He’ll be rough and he’ll be loud sometimes, but he’s the best in the game. We listen to him. He’s been the best defensive coordinator here and in all of college football for a very long time. We’re just taking in what he’s telling us to do and just trying to do it on the field.”
Even if Rivers has gotten off to a rough start, Fuente seems confident that the former four-star prospect will get to where he needs to be.
“When you spend time with him, you can tell that he’s a very conscientious young man,” Fuente said. “Meaning, in terms of football, he wants to do well. He wants to please. He wants to execute the way you’re explaining it to him and is willing to put in extra work to do that.”
Where does Rivers want to go? Of course, he wants to be the best he can be. But he isn’t using Tremaine Edmunds as a benchmark.
“I’m just trying to be my own player right now,” Rivers said. “Tremaine was a freak and you can’t take anything away from that guy. He was awesome. I’m just trying to be the best player I can be right now and learn from Coach Foster and put his ways to use.”