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Leader of the Pack

Scott Haynes, College Editor

On Campus Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - According to the dictionary, "leadership" is the ability to guide, conduct, escort, or direct. It is the one quality that separates good quarterbacks from great ones. Of course, being blessed with a cannon for an arm, or great athleticism certainly helps, but "leadership" is the one ingredient in building a quarterback that supercedes all others.

In the "year of the quarterback", we all know about guys like Byron Leftwich, Ken Dorsey, Kliff Kingsbury and Rex Grossman, but a player that has not received his just rewards in 2002, a player that has played as well, if not better than the ones mentioned above, is NC State quarterback Philip Rivers.

Head coach Chuck Amato knew there was something special about Rivers from the get-go and decided if he was going to build a winner in Raleigh, it would have to be around the Athens, Alabama native. Landing Rivers and giving him the ball from day-one has been a stroke of genius for Amato, who currently has his team on a collision course with Florida State for the ACC title.

Philip Rivers
NC State quarterback Philip Rivers was named the ACC Rookie of the Year in 2000.
In 2000, Rivers was named the ACC Rookie of the Year. He set seven school records in his first season, including completions (237), pass attempts (441) and touchdown passes (25). He threw for 3,054 yards that year, setting the ACC record for a freshman. That year, the Wolfpack went 8-4, including a 38-30 win over Minnesota in the Micronpc.com Bowl.

Last season, the 6-5, 235-pounder set the school-record for completion percentage in a season, connecting on 65.2 percent of his passes. He broke his own record with 240 completions. Rivers led the Wolfpack to a 7-5 record and their second straight bowl appearance, a spot in the 2001 Tangerine Bowl (a 34-19 loss to Pittsburgh).

With two great seasons under his belt, there was no doubt that Rivers was just scratching the surface of his ability.

This year, the Wolfpack QB has put it all together. He currently leads the nation in pass efficiency (170.82), having completed 65.8 percent of his passes, for 2,015 yards and 16 TDs, with just five interceptions. In addition, Rivers has shown himself to be more than just a pure pocket passer, as he has already scored seven rushing touchdowns.

So what is it about Rivers that makes him such a good leader? While speaking with him at the ACC media event in Pinehurst, N.C. before the season, I found out.

First it is his physical attributes. He has ideal size (6-5, 235) and more than enough athletic ability. Rivers can make all the throws necessary and more importantly makes smart decisions with the football.

Next, like last year's number one pick in the NFL Draft (David Carr), Rivers is a young man with a great deal of poise. There is no arrogance about him, just a confidence that permeates a room. When asked about his goals this season, the typical quotes flew about. First and foremost was "improving one game at a time." Then terms like "ACC title," and "national title" were uttered -- not as boastful predictions, but more like the eventual fruits of labor. You get the same quotes from all players, but hearing it from Rivers, with his southern drawl and air of confidence, these statements are somehow more believable.

It could also be because Rivers is a man with more on his plate than simply football. Rivers married his high school sweetheart in May of last year and they had their first child just before the start of the 2002 campaign. Like it happened with Carr (who was married with a son in his senior year at Fresno State), those kind of responsibilities put football in perspective.

His maturity under center has never been more apparent than this season, as he is the main reason why the Wolfpack are heading into November still unbeaten (must still face Clemson on October 24). The team's 8-0 record is its best start since 1967 (when Chuck Amato was a senior linebacker in Raleigh) and represents the school's best start in 111 years of football.

So, NC State is on a collision course with Florida State in the season-finale set for November 23rd in Raleigh. The Wolfpack's victory last season in Tallahassee has the team brimming with confidence, knowing that they can beat the Seminoles anywhere and anytime. That game is still a month away and there is plenty of football to be played, with Clemson, Georgia Tech, Maryland and Virginia on the schedule, before that showdown at Carter-Finley Stadium.

As has been the case all year, Rivers will do everything in his power to make sure that the season-finale has conference title implications.

That thought certainly doesn't sit well with the opposition.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Scott Haynes at shaynes@sportsnetwork.com.

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