Rising Rivers

Sophomore defensive end Gerald Rivers is being called upon to replace the injured Kentrell Lockett Saturday against Jacksonville State - a tall order for any player.

Gerald Rivers could easily be mistaken for a senior. He has the look, his face sporting a bristly half-beard, and his broad shoulders the benchmark for a 6-foot-5, 245-pound frame.

But unbeknownst to most, (excluding, of course, the die-hard of Ole Miss fan) Rivers is entering just his third season. His name has been mentioned for what seems much longer, a backup mainstay since his arrival in 2008.

"Gerald's a kid that's been here a couple of years now in the system," defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said. "He's gradually improved day in and day out. Now it's an opportunity."

Gerald Rivers

An opportunity, indeed.

Kentrell Lockett, a team captain, has been ruled unavailable for the Rebels' season opener against Jacksonville State Saturday.

Lockett is dealing with an irregular heartbeat, requiring multiple tests in Memphis, Tenn. and, most recently, Cleveland, Ohio.

"His charisma, he always comes out there cracking jokes, keeping everybody lively," Rivers said of Lockett. "People got to step up and do that some."

Not Rivers. Remember, he's just a sophomore, even if it's of the redshirt variety.

Other members of the Ole Miss defensive line can handle those vocal duties. He needn't look far with Jerrell Powe, as charismatic as they come, lined up beside him.

But while he may not have to say much, he'll be given the unenviable task of replacing the ever-productive Lockett, who only recorded a team-high 13 quarterback pressures and ranked second in both tackles for loss and sacks a year ago.

Tall order.

"That's just part of playing football. Play how I play," Rivers said of his approach this week. "Take things the way coach puts it out there."

There's no timetable for Lockett's return, meaning Rivers will be penciled in with the first team for the foreseeable future. He's seen action in five career games to date, tallying four total tackles, including one for loss.

With Lockett gone, depth at defensive end has become an issue. Behind Rivers are a collection, sans Jason Jones, of green-eyed newcomers, most notably Carlos Thompson and Delvin Jones. Suddenly, Rivers is the elder statesman.

It's his time.

Gerald Rivers

"We rotate just about every other play, so you just got to be ready," Rivers said. "We were going to be back out there anyway, so it's just depending on who I'm rolling with. If everybody stays focused and follows through on what Coach Nix puts out for us, we can do good things."

Rivers isn't trying to be anyone but himself as his first career start approaches in earnest.

He's finally coming into his own as a defensive end at the college level. He sees no need in altering his day-to-day routine simply because his role has changed.

"It's been good, just going the same role as if Kentrell was still here," he said. "(The defensive linemen) hold each other to a high standard, so everybody is ready to step in."

Nix, as well as Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt, aren't tempering their expectations of Rivers' performance. Nutt especially. Rivers has impressed in preseason practices, but translating that improvement to the playing field is a totally different matter.

"Gerald Rivers has done an excellent job," Nutt said. "It's time for him to come on. He's done a good job for us."

Football is all about opportunity. Well, at least to Nix it is. His challenge is for Rivers to make his long-overdue ascension from backup to productive player.

"We tell these guys opportunity is now and what we want to do with it," he said. "Hopefully Gerald's in a position where he can take advantage of it and show that he can be a productive player. I feel good about Gerald.

"He's practiced well, had a heck of a camp, and I can't wait to see him play."

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