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Stephen Rivers hopes to make name for himself in NFL

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  • By Mark Heller
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- Stephen Rivers knows lineage and name recognition might open a window of opportunity, but the quarterback is trying to throw open his own door toward the NFL Draft.

Stephen is a 6-foot-7, 235-pound pocket passer with a buzz cut and friendly disposition.

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He is also Philip Rivers' younger brother. But aside from high school stardom and both wearing the No. 17 jersey most of their respective playing days, the brothers' careers diverged widely and quickly.

Philip started 51 games at North Carolina State, set numerous school passing records, was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2004 draft and is a six-time Pro Bowler for the San Diego Chargers.

Stephen, 24, made nine collegiate starts at three different schools; the final six of which came at Northwestern State, a FCS school in Natchitoches, La.

Even that came after he'd reclaimed the starting quarterback spot following an early-season benching.

"Obviously my brother's career went one way, and mine went another," Stephen said following an afternoon's worth of passing and agility drills alongside eight other quarterbacks.

Stephen was part of the NFL Regional Combines at the Arizona Cardinals' training facility. More than 150 recent college graduates who are NFL Draft hopefuls work out and run drills all day for scouts leading up to April's draft.

Like his older brother, Stephen was a top high school recruit out of Louisiana, and chose LSU. He redshirted his freshman year (2011), then backed up Zach Mettenberger (sixth-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft) for two more years, which meant Stephen threw two total passes in three years at LSU.

He transferred to Vanderbilt before his senior season in hopes of earning the starting QB job, but instead became one of four quarterbacks to see action in 2014. He only threw 65 passes and completed 38 percent of those attempts.

He graduated with his degree in business, and still had one year of eligibility remaining. But Stephen said the writing was on the wall, and Vanderbilt wanted youth at QB.

"It wasn't a good situation for any QB," said former Vanderbilt tight end Steven Scheu, another NFL hopeful at the Arizona Regional Combine. "After one or two mistakes you might get pulled out, and it's hard to get into a rhythm or build confidence from one snap to the next."

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In June 2015, Stephen transferred closer to home at Northwestern State. As a graduate student in sports administration, he was immediately eligible, but lost his starting job in September. He gained his job back midway through the season, and completed 79.7 percent of his passes for 788 yards, six touchdowns and one interception in his final four games.

"Experience means so much and it can't be taught, but I really can't describe how much those final games helped," he said. "I had started to get in a groove and confidence."

Of course, it came together just in time for the season to end. But a "surprising and unexpected" FedEx envelope landed in his locker during the last week of the season, and his professional aspirations were still alive. It was an invitation to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl showcase in California in late January, where he completed 11 of 17 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown, the best of any QB.

He expressed confidence in his showing during Saturday's Regional Combine, and said his belief has grown while working out with fellow QB draftees Cardale Jones (Ohio State) and Connor Cook (Michigan State) at George Whitfield's quarterback academy in California.

Stephen said he talks to his older brother daily, and that Philip has been "a huge help from day one: development in high school, transfer decisions, work outs and preparing for these combines."

His pro day for scouts is March 15. But he and his wife -- they married two years ago after dating since his sophomore year in high school -- now have a 9-month old daughter, he'll return to Alabama for a brief pause as he contemplates his next pre-draft move.

There aren't many left. Stephen knows he could be hundreds or even thousands of repetitions -- game or practice -- behind most draft-hopeful quarterbacks. He knows "one of the last rounds" of the April 28-30 NFL Draft is the best-case scenario, and that undrafted free agency is a possibility.

He also believes in what can happen if his lineage and unknown potential are given a chance.

"I think I'll be a steal," he said.

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