Brothers in arms

LSU freshman quarterback Stephen Rivers looks to take the next step in his football career with the benefit of an older brother who happens to be one of the best signal-callers in the NFL.

For any quarterback to succeed on any level, he's likely going to need feedback from somebody willing to praise him and who's capable of doling out constructive criticism when necessary.

Most QBs lean on coaches or parents or older teammates. Occasionally there might even be an older brother who has been through the rigors of playing the position and can impart that wisdom.

Then there's the rarest of occasions when that confidant also happens to be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

Welcome to LSU freshman Stephen Rivers' world.

From the time he could wrap his fingers around a football growing up in Decatur, Ala., and later Athens, Ala., the lanky Tigers signal-caller has had the luxury – and perhaps the added pressure – of being the third quarterback in a football-centric family.

Father Steve Rivers was a prep star in Sylacauga, Ala., and has been a highly successful high school coach in his native Alabama and briefly North Carolina for 37 years. Older brother Philip Rivers is in his eighth season with the San Diego Chargers, the last six as the starting quarterback.

The older Rivers QB has thrown for 12,973 yards the last three seasons and is coming off a career-best 4,710-yard campaign when he tossed 30 touchdown passes, giving him 92 in that three-year span.

"Having a brother who plays at that level, that really helps a lot," Stephen Rivers said. "After a high school game, I would text him and tell him a situation and he'd text me back and tell me what I should've done or what I needed to do differently. That's a pretty good resource for a guy my age."

A resource who has been around every step of the way, especially during the recruiting process.


Philip Rivers: Big Brother has turned into a coach and adviser for LSU freshman quarterback Stephen Rivers.
North Carolina State made sense because that was where Philip starred. So did Mississippi State, Steve Rivers' alma mater. UCLA entered the picture because Bruins' Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow was Philip's mentor with the Wolfpack. The two in-state schools got involved when Stephen's development blossomed.

And then there was LSU.

How did Philip help Stephen reach a decision? He pretty much stayed on the fringes and didn't apply any pressure.

"He told me to keep an open mind from the beginning and never pressured me to go to N.C. State or anything like that," Stephen said. "He just wanted me to have the best opportunity."

The lone exception to Philip's neutrality came when Stephen sent him a text message that LSU had offered him a scholarship.

"The text I got back said, ‘That's big time,'" Stephen said with a smile. "He knows this is a top-10 program and he was excited for me. When I told him this is where I wanted to come, he agreed that this was the best place for me."

Now Stephen could someday get a chance to deliver a memorable college career like Philip did as a collegian from 2000-03, and that's why Philip has emerged as a major piece of the future.

Few college quarterbacks have had better careers than Philip's tenure at N.C. State. He started each of his four seasons in Raleigh (all 51 games), passed for 13,484 yards and 95 touchdown passes and was the first quarterback in ACC history to top 3,000 yards in a season three times.

Before Stephen packed up and headed to Baton Rouge, La., Philip came across the country and spent a week with his 18-year-old brother to make sure he was prepared for the challenge ahead.

They worked on football, talked about how fast defenses would be at the SEC level and went over what Stephen had to do to stay afloat as a freshman. Now 29 and regarded as a top-five quarterback in the NFL, for a week Philip stripped all the glamour and prestige away and focused on being a big brother.

"That was important to me," Steven said. "He's always been there for me and we're close anyway, but what he did for me this summer is something I'll hold onto as long as I play football.

"When Philip was in high school, I was only seven or eight, but I was always around him and my dad. I was right there in the huddle at practice sometimes. I learned a lot from both of them about being a leader if you're the quarterback."

The chance for Stephen Rivers to lead LSU's first-team offense is likely a few years away, with a pair of seniors leading the way right now and sophomore Zach Mettenberger on deck as the heir apparent in 2012. Although he isn't automatically conceding the starting job to Mettenberger, he knows he has plenty to learn this season.

When Stephen committed to LSU last August, his high school coach, Allen Creasy, said he was more athletic than Philip and threw the ball better. Creasy was the defensive coordinator at Athens High under Steve Rivers when Philip was the QB.

Creasy also said a common thread between the brothers is a competitive streak that has served Philip well in his climb to NFL stardom and will be readily available to Stephen during his journey at LSU and beyond.

That competition began at home, despite the 11-year age difference.

"I try and beat him in everything whether it's video games or horse," Stephen Rivers said last fall in an interview with ESPN.com's Jamie Newberg. "It's more of a challenge between me and him than trying to live up to all the expectations."

Before any expectations come into play for Stephen, he's got a long road to travel. He showed up on campus this summer with only 208 pounds on his 6-foot-7 frame and has already bulked up to 220.

In six days of practice, Stephen has been up-and-down in throwing drills and has settled into a shared role with fellow freshman Jerrard Randall on the scout team.

Without the immediate pressure of having to run the Tigers' offense, Stephen is more in watch-and-absorb mode than feeling the need to put any pressure on himself.

And he has quickly realized that there's a lot to learn.

"There's a lot going on when you break the huddle; there's a lot to handle," he said. "I've watched Jordan and Jarrett and Zach and seen how they handled it. They've been pretty calm and they've shown their maturity.

"Everything is so fast. Just watching people like Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo coming at you from the ends – it's pretty crazy seeing guys that size come flying off the ball. I think I need to experience that to fully understand it.

"The other thing is, I've definitely noticed it's going to be a smaller window to get the ball through. The corners know what to expect and take away your opportunity pretty quickly. But at the same time, with the receivers we have on this team, you can hit an area instead of throwing the ball perfectly and they're going to go and get it."

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