ASHEVILLE, N.C. – Chase Rice's defending state 4-A champion Reynolds team is off to a slow start to the 2003 season. The Rockets are 0-2, following a 21-6 loss at Swannanoa Owen last Friday; however, Rice displayed his athleticism early this year when he ran back a touchdown in their season opener.
"The biggest plus for him is that he's almost 6-foot-3 and can run. He's got good feet, good hips – all the tools," Reynolds head coach Steve McCurry said. "Plus, when you add in that he really works on the fundamentals, then you've got a great combination there."
Rice grew up a Florida fan, but the Gators, along with FSU, showed guarded interest. Wake Forest and Duke appeared to have the upper hand, until the UNC coaching staff turned up the heat and made Rice feel like he would be something special at Carolina.
"I get to know all these coaches, and then just like that it's over," Rice said. "You're talking to them all the time, and then all of a sudden, it stops when you commit.
"I met him Coach [John] Bunting at senior camp this year," he said. "I just really liked talking to him and he made me feel really good about the future of football at Carolina. They got the No. 16 recruiting class in the nation last year, and hopefully they'll get another good one this year.
"I also talked to some of the players when I was up there and they said that Julius Peppers learned a lot from Coach Bunting, things he never knew like what to do with his hands."
Tennessee also showed a great deal of interest in Rice, but did not officially offer him. That may turn out to be good news for the Tar Heels considering the long reaches of the Volunteers' fan base.
"I guess it's because we've got the mountains in common and they're so close," McCurry said. "Tennessee does a great job. They're huge. When you ride home, you see all these people with all this Tennessee stuff on their cars. They have a huge fan base here and I think that draws the athletes in.
"I would still say there are a few more Carolina fans here than Tennessee. It's Dean Smith and the basketball. They love Carolina basketball and they love Tennessee football."
Rice decided not to follow in his oldest brother's footsteps to Durham, something Chad Rice, a former Duke defensive end, does not hold against him.
"He said he would cheer for me every game of the year, except when we play Duke," Chase Rice said. "He's supportive of me."
Listening to him and his coach, Rice is getting bigger and faster, which will help his chances of remaining at linebacker in college.
"He's only going to get bigger," McCurry said. "Right now, he's in the 205 to 210-pound range. In a year or a year and a half, we could easily see him at 225, and still able to run as fast as he does now, or even faster.
"I think linebacker fits him better," he said. "He's never played strong safety. Outside linebacker is his place to play.
"I think he's really going to be successful at the next level."