Linebacker Justen Rivers leads Columbus Lions' defense

Special To The Ledger-EnquirerMarch 15, 2013 

Whether he wants to admit it or not, linebacker Justen Rivers is one of the elder statesmen of the Columbus Lions' roster.

Just don't try to tell Rivers that.

"I'm 30, so I'm not too old," said Rivers, who, along with the rest of the Lions, travels to Albany Saturday to take on the defending Professional Indoor Football League champion Albany Panthers at 7:30 p.m.

"Ray Lewis played until he was 38 years old, so I'm still good."

A graduate of Hardaway that went on to to play college football at Eastern Kentucky University, Rivers is the longest-tenured Lion, as he is currently in his seventh season with the franchise.

He started the 2013 season last week as well as anyone could've asked for, recording three tackles (two of which were sacks) while blocking a field goal and recovering a blocked field goal for a touchdown as Columbus pounded the Knoxville Nighthawks, 58-28.

"I felt like I played pretty good (against Knoxville)," said Rivers, who is the Lions' all-time leader in tackles (189) and sacks (28). "Our defensive line did a good job of getting pressure and that opened up some gaps for me to get through to the quarterback and make some plays early. It's a team game, not just an individual one, so it was the Columbus Lions' defense that played well, not just me."

The 6-foot-1, 255-pound Rivers -- who had 15.5 tackles, 1.5 sacks and an interception in seven games last season -- is one of the few returnees to a Lions' defense that underwent a drastic overhaul in the offseason. However, given the experience he has and his ability to consistently make plays, it would've been hard for Lions coach Jason Gibson not to have Rivers back this year.

"(Rivers) is a true veteran," said Gibson. "He knows the game and schemes almost as well as I do. He executes our defense to perfection. The blocked field goal is something he's just great at. He does that to perfection."

On a defense full of newcomers and players who don't have a lot of experience, Rivers knows he must be a prominent leader, both on and off the field.

"I see myself as the voice of reason," said Rivers. "I used to be all hyped up like some of these younger guys are when we get in the huddle, but now I see myself more as a voice of reason who tries to make sure we keep things on track and as a good teammate who canbe an example to the other guys."

Gibson said Rivers is play

ing some of the best football of his career right now.

"I think he's playing better now at a bigger weight and as an older player than he was a few years ago," said Gibson. "He's really an extension of me on the field, just meaner."

So, having turned 30 and in his seventh season with the Lions, how much longer does Rivers want to play?

Rivers said he's not sure of the answer to that question.

"There comes a time in everyone's lives where they have to turn a page and move on to something else," said Rivers.

"But I still feel like I'm just as good as the other players in this league and as long as I can keep being competitive, there's no reason to consider retiring from football." I've just been blessed to be able to play this game as long as I have."

Notes: Both teams posted wins in their season openers last week, with Albany winning 50-41 at Louisiana and Columbus smacking Knoxville, 58-28, at home. … Along with Rivers being named the PIFL's Defensive Player of the Week, Columbus kicker Chandler Brooks was named the PIFL's Special Teams Player of the Week for making 7-of-8 extra points and booting 3 uno's for a total of 10 points, tops among kickers in Week 1. … Albany quarterback Cecil Lester -- who is in his ninth season of indoor football - was the league's Offensive Player of the Week after going 26-for-39 for 269 yards and five touchdowns, all to different receivers, in the Panthers' road victory. … Along with Columbus at Albany, there are two other games on the PIFL slate this week. Saturday at 7 p.m., the Alabama Hammers (1-0) visit the Richmond Raiders (0-0) in Virginia and on Sunday at 4 p.m., the Knoxville Nighthawks (0-1) face the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks (0-1) in Bethlehem, Pa.

Who: Columbus Lions (1-0) at Albany Panthers (1-0)

When: Tonight, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Albany Civic Center

Notes: Both teams posted wins in their season openers last week, with Albany winning 50-41 at Louisiana and Columbus smacking Knoxville, 58-28, at home. … Along with Rivers being named the PIFL's Defensive Player of the Week, Columbus kicker Chandler Brooks was named the PIFL's Special Teams Player of the Week for making 7-of-8 extra points and booting 3 uno's for a total of 10 points, tops among kickers in Week 1. … Albany quarterback Cecil Lester -- who is in his ninth season of indoor football - was the league's Offensive Player of the Week after going 26-for-39 for 269 yards and five touchdowns, all to different receivers, in the Panthers' road victory. … Along with Columbus at Albany, there are two other games on the PIFL slate this week. Saturday at 7 p.m., the Alabama Hammers (1-0) visit the Richmond Raiders (0-0) in Virginia and on Sunday at 4 p.m., the Knoxville Nighthawks (0-1) face the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks (0-1) in Bethlehem, Pa.

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