By Harry Minium
NORFOLK, Va. – Nick Rice already has a degree is business marketing from Old Dominion. In a few weeks, he is scheduled to walk across the stage at Chartway Arena and pick up his second sheepskin, a bachelor of arts in business management.
He has developed a good relationship with Jeff Tanner, dean and professor of marketing in the Strome College of Business, and they agree that he should follow his father, Brian Rice, and enter the world of corporate sales.
Little wonder. Had Rice not been a salesman par excellence as a senior in high school, he likely would have been just another student at the University of South Florida instead of a college football star.
He plays his final football game for Old Dominion today when the Monarchs host Charlotte at 2 p.m. as arguably the school’s greatest placekicker of all time.
He has set the record for the most career field goals with 63 and broke his own record with 19 field goals in a season as a senior. He’s made a ton of those kicks under pressure, including a game-winning, 46-yard field goal against Louisiana Tech earlier this season as the horn sounded.
A gregarious, likable guy with boyish good looks, a muscular build and blondish hair down to his shoulders, he’s a favorite among his teammates, who named him one of their tri-captains this summer, an honor rarely accorded a placekicker.
As a senior at Plant High School in St. Petersburg, Florida, he had no FBS scholarship offers.
“I didn’t have any offers that were reasonable financially,” he said.
As a junior, Rice was the backup kicker at Mill Creek High School in suburban Atlanta, Georgia. The starter, Brenton King, was a three-star recruit who had committed to ODU.
Rice’s family moved to Florida for his senior year. A week before national signing day in February, King reneged on his commitment to ODU and signed with Georgia Tech.
That’s when Rice’s sales ability kicked in.
Nick Rice nails a 46-yard game-winning field goal against Louisiana Tech
“I had the inside skinny on an available scholarship, so I went ahead and messaged everyone from ODU I could find,” he said. He ended up in regular touch with assistant coaches Frank Wilson and Charles Bankins and sold himself by sending kicking videos.
Not until three months later, in April, did ODU bring him on an official visit.
Just hours before he was set to return to Florida, then head coach Bobby Wilder offered him a scholarship. He accepted immediately.
“Coach Wilder told me I was the fifth kicker they offered,” he said.
The fifth time proved to be the charm. He’s been a four-year starter for ODU and has been consistently excellent from his first game.
He’s made 79 percent of his field goal attempts is second in career scoring only to Jarod Brown, who rivals Rice as the school’s greatest kicker of all time.
Rice is a favorite among his teammates as well as among fans. Because he’s from the Florida Gulf Coast and has the look of a surfer, he’s stereotyped as sort of a beach bum, surfer dude who is only truly happy when he’s casting for fish in the ocean.
Fact is, he doesn’t like going to the beach, can’t surf and hates to fish. He’s more comfortable in the city. He only recently fessed up to his roommates that he grew up just outside Atlanta and isn’t a true Floridian.
He is well-liked in part because even when things are going poorly, as was the case when ODU won just one of its first seven games, he’s always upbeat.
“I have a habit of smiling when I talk,” he said.
He was stunned over the summer when his teammates elected him a tri-captain, along with offensive lineman Isaac Weaver and linebacker Jordan Young.
“It’s a new role for me to walk into and definitely not something I would have expected to play,” he said. “But the team voted and I was happy to learn I was elected.
“It’s been a fun experience. It’s also been a learning curve for me as well.
“I was excited when I heard. My teammates voted for me. That means they saw something. I was happy to walk into the role.”
Being a captain means being vocal in the locker room and on the field and although hesitant at first, Rice has spoken up.
“Nick’s different,” coach Ricky Rahne said. “I like Nick a lot and he’s a character. He’s a guy who is very much himself, very comfortable in his own skin and people like him because of that.
“He works hard at his craft and that gives him the right to be a bit boisterous. Everyone on our team respects how hard he works at his craft, and I think just like an offensive lineman, just like a linebacker, just like a defensive lineman.
“They know, ‘Hey, that guy works really hard’ and performs at a high level and comes through in the clutch. He’s allowed to be a little loud and different because he’s earned that.”
Although he tries to hide it, Rice is a sentimental guy. Today is his final game at ODU, and as he talked about what it will to see his parents, Brian and Cindy, and older sister, McKenzie, for senior day ceremony, his eyes grew moist and his voice choked up a little.
He’s also a caring guy. He recently reached out to Kylie Sandberg, a freshman ODU cheerleader from Yorktown who began her own business as a junior in high school to raise money for the American Cancer Society.
Kylie is passionate about fighting cancer – she lost her grandfather, Nestor Villanueva, to the disease in 2017. Her father, Mark Sandberg, was diagnosed with cancer that same year but is a cancer survivor. She is raising money for the Relay for Life at ODU in April.
Rice texted her and offered to help. He has pledged via social media to give $1 for every point ODU scores today and has urged ODU fans to do the same
“After hearing her story, I figured this would be a good thing to get involved in,” Rice said.
While Rice has his salesmanship to thank for his place at ODU, he also realizes he’s had a lot of luck along the way.
He was fortunate to play in a football hotbed in Gwinnett County, where former ODU star and current Washington Football Team starting quarterback Taylor Heinicke honed his skills.
Rice was taller and bigger than most kids his age and was a pretty fair cornerback in community leagues and later, on the junior varsity.
“I was fortunate in that when I was 10, our league allowed players to kick an extra point that would count for two points,” he said. “Going for it would only count for one point.
“I tried out and made it and began to realize that I could kick pretty well. By the time I was a sophomore in high school, I realized I could be pretty good at this, that I might be able to earn a scholarship.”
His growing spurt had long since ended and given the level of competition in suburban Atlanta, “there’s no way I could have played in that league” except at placekicker.
He said his path to ODU isn’t all that unusual.
“I had a different road here,” he said. “But that happens a lot with specialists.
“It’s a different world than being a linebacker or quarterback. You have to promote yourself.”
Rice said had ODU not offered a scholarship, he likely would have enrolled at South Florida and given up on football, which goes to show you how precarious the scouting process can be.
Brenton King, the guy who de committed from ODU to sign with Georgia Tech, has been hampered by injuries and ended up at Jacksonville State, where he is handling kickoff duty for the FCS program.
Rice said he hopes to find a sales job in a large southern city, such as Atlanta or Charlotte, and eventually hopes to lead a sales team.
He’s already heads a team of sorts – the six members of ODU’s special teams. He helps set the agenda in practice for all of them.
He’s also been an entrepreneur. He and teammate Reese Poffenbarger, a freshman quarterback, ran a lawn business last summer out of their Lamberts Point home.
“My dad’s a salesman and I feel like I’m pretty friendly with people,” Rice said. “Dean Tanner and I are on the same page on what I should do with my post-football life.”
Rice is trying not to think about his post-football life right now. He wants this season to extend as long as possible.
“I’m definitely going to be sad,” he said of today’s senior ceremony. “I almost shed a few tears last week after we won at Middle Tennessee just because that’s something we’d never done during my career here.
“There definitely will be some tears. It will feel emotional coming out of the tunnel.
“After the game, regardless of the outcome, I’ll be emotional as well because it will be my last time playing here.
“But I’ll be happy, too. It will be a good ending to my career here.
“I’m so glad I came to Old Dominion. It’s been a great run.”
Minium worked 39 years at The Virginian-Pilot before coming to ODU as a senior executive writer. He covers all of ODU’s athletic teams for odusports.com Follow him on Twitter @Harry_MiniumODU, Instagram @hbminium1 or email [email protected]