Ray Rice Gives Back To Community During Offseason

Posted on July 19, 2011


By Keith Mills

It wasn't that long ago that Ray Rice was running wild for the New Rochelle Youth Tackle Football League.

Or leading his high school team to the Class AA New York state championship.

Or rushing for 35 career touchdowns for the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers University.

Or being selected by the Ravens with the 55th pick of the 2008 NFL draft.

Or making the Pro Bowl one year later.

"When you realize where you're at," Rice said, "and where you came from, you really appreciate the chance to spend time with kids who love to play. Hey, I was just like them."

Rice is everywhere.

During the four-month NFL lockout, he's talked to elementary- and middle-school students all over Baltimore, thanked a group of sponsors and guests at the Touchdown for Pigtown fundraiser for Paul's Place, returned to his hometown for Ray Rice Day in June and just this weekend held a blocking dummy at his football camp at Towson University.

Adults constantly seek his autograph and attention. Kids cling to him like a magnet.

And he loves it.

"I'm still young," Rice said. "I'm 24, but the older I get, I realize I'm still just a big kid. I'm in a position where kids respond to me. One thing I've learned is life is just passing the torch down."

The torch has been passed from Ray's mother, Janet, a school teacher in his hometown, to Lou DiRienzo, his coach at New Rochelle, to Courtney Greene, now a safety for the Jacksonville Jaguars, and a teammate of Rice's both at the New Rochelle Youth Football League and New Rochelle High, where they led the Huguenots to the 2003 state championship.

"Lockout or not, I'd still be doing this," Rice said. "I just have more time now. You go out and you preach to kids. School's No. 1. You tell them to go out and live the dream. You also tell them about the rights and the wrongs."

Most of the kids at the Ray Rice All-American Football Camp are from the Baltimore area, though there's a handful who came from out of town, including Malik and Nigel Whitfield of Mountain Home High School in Idaho, which is near the Mountain Home Air Force Base.

"We drove here from Idaho because of Ray Rice," said Malik Whitfield, a junior at Mountain Home. "My favorite player is Ed Reed and Ray Rice is next."

Malik Whitfield wears No. 20 for the Mountain Home High Tigers. He plays defensive back and running back. His brother, Nigel, wears No. 11 and plays wide receiver. Nick McIntosh is a junior at Ankeny High School in central Iowa, the alma mater of current Iowa State head football coach Paul Rhoads.

"We heard about this camp and decided to check out it," said McIntosh, a 16-year-old running back and defensive back. "Ray Rice is a great player and I figure it'd be a great chance to learn a lot from him."

Many players who lend their names to camps like this don't take an active role in actually getting on the field and working with the campers. Rice is not one of those players.

He worked on technique with the running backs and defensive backs and held a practice dummy for blocking and tackling drills. And then he addressed the parents about how he was able to make the transition from youth football to high school and then later from Rutgers to the Ravens. It's pretty much the same message he shares with the players he counsels.

"You tell the kids to respect their parents and their coaches," Rice said. "You tell them to work hard, to never quit. If your dream is to play in college, try and live the dream."

Rice the player lived the dream when he left New Rochelle High in the summer of 2005 for Rutgers, where he helped the Scarlet Knights as a true freshman complete their first winning season in 14 years. When his college career ended, he was the school's all-time leading rusher and high atop Ozzie's Newsome's draft board in 2008.

But he never lost his devotion to New Rochelle, his almost too-good-to-be-true lack of ego and his desire to share his experience with the Ray Rices of tomorrow.

"There's going to be another Ray Rice somewhere along the way in this world," said Rice, "and there's going to be another Ray Lewis. You memorize faces and you get to know these kids. Then you look at a kid grow up one day and have some success and that's what it's all about."

Jamar Curtis may be that next Rice. At 60 pounds and going into the fourth grade, he almost got lost in his helmet, though he instantly bonded with Rice, who always takes the time for a question-and-answer session with any of the students he talks to.

"First, they asked if I ever got hit by Ray Lewis," Rice said. "That's usually the first question. Then once they realize I'm just a normal person, they start asking some more specific questions. How do I work out? What do I eat? What do I do to get ready for a game? I always tell them there's no such thing as a dumb question."

And there was no shortage of local players who were well aware of just how imposing and explosive Rice has become during just his first three years with the Ravens. He's the team's second all-time leading rusher already (3,031 yards), who finished third in the NFL last year in yards gained from scrimmage (1,776).

Eric Ashton, Dorian Woody and Drew Bull are all from Harford County. Ashton is a seventh grader at Trinity Lutheran in Aberdeen and hopes one day to play for John Carroll. Woody will be a sixth grader this year at Fallston Middle School and plays running back for the Fallston recreation council program, while Bull will attend North Harford this year, after playing fullback and linebacker for the Jarrettsville youth football league.

Jude Boadi attends Elkton High in Cecil County, while Jordan Royal attends the Chesapeake Science Point charter school in Hanover. Cortez Griffin will be a sophomore at Overlea High, where he wears No. 3 and plays running back and cornerback while 12-year-old William Ballinger is already a five-year veteran of the Ellicott City Patriot football program in Howard County and may play one day at Mount St. Joseph.

"That's where I went," said his dad, Bob, who also coaches in the Patriot program, "but we live in the Wilde Lake school district and they won the state championship last year. We thought this would be a great idea to bring him here for some professional development and work on some of the skills he will need to play in the fall."

"A lot of these kids want to know where I grew up," Rice said. "When did I start playing? Being so short, what did I have to do to get where I wanted to go? And I give them the honest answer. My height didn't take away from my heart. My heart and desire kept me on the right path and I was given a chance.

"I always talk about how small of a chance you really have to play in the NFL, but that's OK if you don't make it. My best friend just went into the Air Force. We played together all the time. You don't have to go to the NFL to be a role model and be successful. That's my message to them. If it's not the NFL, the world's waiting for you."

Posted July 19, 2011

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