Off and running


Future bright, but past not forgotten

Ray Rice

July 24, 2008|By MIKE PRESTON

Rookie running back Ray Rice has one immediate goal of making the Ravens' roster and a long-term one of moving his mother, Janet, out of a public housing complex in New Rochelle, N.Y.

Within the next couple of weeks, what once seemed like mission impossible can become mission accomplished.

"I am the oldest of a family of four from a single-parent home, so there was a lot of pressure on us, but my mother took a lot of it off. She handled it well," Rice said. "Now, I can take some of that pressure off her."

Rice is almost a cinch to make the roster because he is a second-round draft pick, and few teams give up on rookies taken so high.

But Rice is taking nothing for granted, especially when at 5 feet 8 and 200 pounds he is playing in a league of giants. Rice also played at Rutgers, which doesn't have that rich college football pedigree like Notre Dame or Michigan.

Life hasn't come easy for Rice. His father, Calvin Reed, died when Rice was 1 year old, a victim of a random shooting.

"He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, shot in the back of the head," Rice said after morning workouts yesterday. "It was a tragedy, especially for my grandparents, because he was one of two children, the baby of the family. I have found out that he was a great guy, well known in the community. I think I'm living his life for him through other people."

If you listen to Rice talk, you can tell there is a maturity well beyond his 21 years. He had to grow up in a hurry in a tough part of town called "The Hollows."

Janet Rice was a role model for her son, but he became a role model for his siblings. Rice still shares a lot of his time because he is a tutor and counselor for special-needs children.

During a break at Rutgers during his senior year, Rice visited special-needs schools, including Henry Barnard School in his hometown. Janet Rice is a special education teacher.

"When they see Ray, their faces light up like lightning," Janet Rice said. "He'll walk into a room and they rush over to him. He is very good to them. He will periodically peek in on the kids during his time off just to say hello. I told him if you put out a lot of love, you're going to receive a lot of love."

The Ravens have given Rice a lot of attention during the past two days. Though Willis McGahee is the starting running back, the Ravens don't have total trust in him. He's a little flaky.

The team brought in Rice as an insurance policy, someone who can push McGahee because of Rice's strong work ethic. The Ravens aren't afraid of Rice's lack of size.

He is Rutgers' all-time leading rusher with 4,926 yards and 49 touchdowns. Last season, he finished third in the nation with 2,012 yards rushing and 24 touchdowns, good enough to earn second-team All-America honors.

He can run with speed or power.

"He has quickness, vision, and always has a way out of every run," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "He has a powerful lower body that provides him with a lot of explosion."

"People underestimate him, but Ray never talks," Janet Rice said. "He just goes out and does it. Everything he's achieving, the accomplishments, I'm just proud. There are no other words I can use to explain it."

The Ravens will get Rice on the field somehow, because he is too good of an athlete to keep off it. He has been returning punts and already gives you a confidence in handling the ball that you never got last season from regular returner Yamon Figurs.

"Special teams have really been great," Rice said. "I'm catching punts, kick returns and even running down on kickoffs. Anytime you can be good on special teams, you know you can play some different roles on offense. I think special teams just opens the door for you.

"You just have to go back to a beginner's mentality," he said. "Honestly, it is a beginner's mentality with this new offense. I just go back to when I was a freshman, when I was at Rutgers fighting for the job. It's the same process now."

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