College of Idaho vs EOU (Forrest Rivers)

College of Idaho linebacker Forrest Rivers (47) locks in on Eastern Oregon quarterback Kai Quinn (7) during a game on Aug. 31 at Simplot Stadium in Caldwell.

CALDWELL — Throughout his football-playing career, one thing had eluded Forrest Rivers: Being a part of a shutout effort.

But the College of Idaho linebacker said he felt something special brewing early in the Yotes’ 42-0 win at Rocky Mountain on Sept. 28, and he never let up.

Rivers finished with five tackles as the Yotes (4-0, 4-0 Frontier Conference) held an opponent off the scoreboard for the first time since 1976.

“That’s definitely something I always wanted to do, because I hadn’t had any shutouts in my entire football career,” said Rivers. “That was a great experience to have for the first time. It was a surreal moment for me.”

It’s been a surreal career for the senior, a four-year starter and two-time second-team All-Frontier Conference selection who has helped build the program up into one of the most dominant teams in the Frontier Conference, as well as the nation. He started in 2016, during the Yotes’ third straight four-win season, then saw the team posting winning records each of the past two seasons.

Through four games this year, Rivers leads the College of Idaho defense with 23 tackles, including three tackles for a loss. The College of Idaho has the fifth-best run defense in the nation, as the Yotes travel to Carroll College on Saturday.

“I just wanted to do better than we did last year, to be honest,” said Rivers. “I was definitely hungry and being more electric on the field. Just bringing more energy and having more influence. I focused a lot on being more dominant on the field.”

A more dominant Rivers might be a scary prospect for opposing defenses, as the Corona, California, native has put up at least 45 tackles and 7.5 tackles for a loss in each of his first three seasons. Last year he had 61 tackles, with 10 going for a loss. He recorded 15 tackles against Montana Western, one tackle shy of the school record set by Nate Moore the season before.

“I think he’s working on a few things, like being a more fundamental tackler and not letting tackles slip out of his grasp,” said College of Idaho coach Mike Moroski. “He is dynamic in terms of getting to the ball, and if he can do that, he’s not just going to have a good year — all-league and all that — he’s going to have a spectacular year. And I think he’s making strides in the right areas.”

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Rivers’ season was cut short last year due to a concussion which caused him to miss the final two games. He then missed spring practice and the first week of fall camp due to what he said was a combination of injuries and personal reasons.

But his absence from the field gave Rivers time to reflect and made him even hungrier to come out and finish his final season on a strong note.

“It definitely made a fire in me,” said Rivers. “It made me want to come out and be the best that I can. I realized this is my last year and I wanted to experience it the best that I can.”

In the season opener against Eastern Oregon, Rivers recorded six tackles, sharing the team lead with freshman linebacker Dylan Martinez. He hasn’t slowed down since, recording at least five tackles in each of the Yotes games, with a season-high seven coming in a road win at Montana Tech.

“He’s a phenomenal presence,” said junior defensive back David Ford. “Having Forrest out there, for me at least, I feel like I can relax. I can just worry about my assignment and not worry about the run game.”

After two bye weeks in the last three weeks, the Yotes’ game against the Saints starts a stretch of games in six straight weeks. The Yotes are on a 10-game winning streak dating back to last season.

If the Yotes can keep the wins coming, they can win their first-ever Frontier Conference title and advance to the NAIA postseason.

“This is the hard work that we put in as a team.” Rivers said about the program’s improvement. “We’re definitely maturing as a program and showing we can actually hang with everybody.”

John Wustrow is the assistant sports editor of the Idaho Press. He is a Michigan native and a graduate of Indiana University.

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