Sherando LB Rivers cites relationship with coaches in late switch to Hokies

Sherando's Dylan Rivers looks to the sideline between downs during a game against Washington in Stephens City in September. Rivers has announced that he will attend Virginia Tech this fall. Rich Cooley/Daily

STEPHENS CITY – Sherando High School linebacker Dylan Rivers gave his verbal commitment to play football at Penn State University as a junior in November 2015, a decision he had hoped at the time would mark the end of the recruiting process. At the urging of Warriors head coach Bill Hall, however, Rivers left his options open, and over the weekend his initial backup plan officially turned into his new college of choice.

Rivers met with Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin and defensive coordinator Brent Pry, Rivers’s primary recruiter, during his official visit to the Penn State campus on Sunday and informed both coaches that he was withdrawing his commitment. A couple hours later the Sherando senior informed Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente and defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who made a decisive, late push for the Warrior linebacker, that he would be joining the Hokies in 2017.

“They were always like pretty much in my back pocket and I just wanted to have a backup plan until coach Foster and coach Fuente really started to, you know, hammer me a little bit,” Rivers said of Virginia Tech on Monday, nearly 24 hours after making his decision public via Twitter and nine days before he’ll sign his national letter of intent.

“I started to build a good relationship with coach Fuente and I just trusted coach Foster. He’s been truthful with me the whole entire process. We kind of separated a little bit from each other but we kind of came back together. He just always stayed true to me and I just realized that that’s where I wanted to go.”

Rivers said that while Foster has been actively recruiting the Sherando linebacker since his sophomore season in 2015, the two fell out of touch for a period after Rivers committed to Penn State on Nov. 21, 2015, about a week before the Hokies announced Fuente as the replacement for longtime head coach Frank Beamer.

Fuente and Foster made a joint visit to Sherando on the first day of the open recruiting period in January 2016, Hall said, telling Rivers that they wanted an “opportunity to continue to build” their relationship. Rivers said he kept his conversations with coaches from Virginia Tech and Penn State to a minimum during this past season in order to focus on his senior year, but he began receiving texts and phone calls daily from Foster and Fuente once Sherando’s season came to an end on Nov. 4.

Rivers made an official visit to Virginia Tech on Dec. 9.

“Coach Foster’s always been so honest with me. That’s a big deal to me,” the 6-foot-2, 230-pound linebacker said. “Coach Fuente was very genuine with my mother and actually made her tear up a little bit. So, you know, that kind of stuck with me a little bit. That was pretty special.”

Rivers raved about Foster’s credentials, calling the 30-year Hokie assistant – who also coaches linebackers – “one of the best defensive coordinators in the nation” and citing his tradition of building “great” linebackers and defenses as a major selling point. Rivers added that he was also drawn to Foster’s personality.

“We click,” Rivers said. “He trusts me, I trust him, so that’s how it really got started there, how we trusted each other.”

It was Rivers’ relationship with Fuente, however, that was ultimately one of the decisive factors in the linebacker’s flip to the Hokies.

“I didn’t have a relationship with Coach Franklin,” Rivers said of the Penn State head coach. “We never talked or anything like that and Coach Fuente was hitting my phone up left and right, calling me. Just simple things like, ‘send me a picture of you on a snowboard, snowboarding on the mountain’ and stuff. Just things like that, trying to build not just a football relationship but a friendship. That stood out to me. I’m a family man so, you know, stuff like that just stood out to me a little bit more. Coach Franklin, he was good but he just didn’t interact with me as well as Coach Fuente did.”

Rivers said he didn’t finalize his decision to decommit from Penn State and pick the Hokies until his official visit to State College, Pennsylvania, this past weekend, but the choice was hardly made on a whim.

Rivers, who said he visits Blacksburg about every other weekend (he’s friends with current Hokie linebacker Trent Young), began leaning toward Virginia Tech after his official visit in December. Hall said he felt his star linebacker handled the process “professionally” by keeping Penn State coaches in the loop and making them aware that they were still in competition with Tech for Rivers’ signature on national signing day throughout that time.

“He was open and up front with both Penn State and Virginia Tech through the whole thing,” Hall said, “so everyone was on the same page.”

Rivers said that while visiting Happy Valley over the weekend he realized Penn State “wasn’t the school for me.”

“I had a good time. It was nice seeing all the commits again, but again it just wasn’t the place for me and the conversation I had with Coach Pry was very intimate,” Rivers said. “It wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have. It’s not a conversation I wanted to have with anyone. Coach Pry and I are so close, it kind of hurt a little bit. It got pretty emotional.”

Rivers, who said he was prepared for the backlash he would receive from people online and posted his Sunday announcement with the tweet “Respect MY decision!”, added that he was “immature” when he made his initial verbal commitment to Penn State last school year.

“My family and I hadn’t been in the recruiting process long. I was getting bombarded by everyone and I really just wanted to get the recruiting process over with,” said Rivers, a four-star recruit who is ranked as the No. 8 prospect in Virginia, the No. 15 outside linebacker in the country and the nation’s No. 253 overall recruit by 247 Sports.

“I got caught up in the hype a little. I got caught up in the 100,000 people that come to the games (at Penn State) and stuff like that.”

As Rivers spent more time in the recruiting process, he realized he had made a rushed decision before deciding what he wanted to study in college (he plans to major in environmental engineering at Virginia Tech) and before he spent time getting to know the campuses and the people he’d be interacting with on a daily basis at each school.

“I didn’t do my homework. I do apologize for that,” Rivers said.

This past season Rivers led the area with 102 total tackles (13 for loss). He also caught 21 passes for 346 yards and seven touchdowns as a tight end and rushed 22 times for 211 yards and eight scores for Sherando.

Rivers was the Conference 21 West Defensive Player of the Year, a first-team all Region 4A West selection at linebacker and tight end and a second-team Virginia High School League Group 4A all-state pick at both positions this past season. He was twice voted The Northern Virginia Daily’s Football Defensive Player of the Year, in 2015 and 2016.

Rivers, who said he expects to play primarily on the edge as a “Will” linebacker for the Hokies, will sign his national letter of intent on the Feb. 1 signing day.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com