Rice's Redemption

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Chase Rice spent the last six months watching his teammates make game-changing plays and deliver bone-crushing hits after breaking his left ankle in the 2007 season opener. But Monday marked his return to the football field, and the fifth-year senior is eager to return to form for the 2008 campaign.

"[My ankle] feels good," Rice said following his first practice back since last preseason. "When I'm out there playing, I don't feel it. And that's really all that matters. During the whistles, I don't feel anything."

The Asheville, N.C. product spent eight weeks in a cast following surgery shortly after the Tar Heels' 37-14 victory over James Madison on Sept. 1. He slowly began walking with the doctor's permission, which initiated an excruciatingly-slow recovery process that didn't reach a conclusion until just recently – the first time Rice sprinted was several weeks ago.

Despite being sidelined for the entire 2007 season, the weakside linebacker made sure that he would find some positives amidst the disappointment surrounding the injury.

"I've learned the game a lot more," Rice said. "All I could do all season was watch film. I didn't go out to practices because they didn't want me to because of swelling. While they were at practice, I watched film so I learned the game a lot more."

He also made use of the weight room. While Rice was unable to lift with his legs, nothing prevented him from adding muscle from the waist up.

"I was never really big, especially in the upper body, and I worked the upper body all semester [because] that was all I really could do," Rice said. "And when I started lifting my legs, I got up to 235 pounds… I feel great and I'm 15 pounds heavier and I'm faster, actually."

And even though Rice may not have been able to work with his teammates on the practice field, he made sure his presence was felt in the film room. He and Durell Mapp were known to schedule film sessions with the younger linebackers on the squad, to help in their knowledge and maturation process.

But while Mapp is currently preparing for an opportunity to play in the NFL, Rice and fellow senior Mark Paschal have continued the tutoring process with their younger teammates.

"We'd take them up twice a week the last few weeks and watch film and have them go up to the board and draw stuff down," Rice said. "To see what they needed to do better, and to see what they're doing well. We've done the same things we've always done. The older guys help out the younger guys anyway that we can."

As fun as those film study sessions have been, Rice is just glad to be back on the field, delivering hits and making plays.

"At first I didn't know how I was going to be because it was my first practice since Aug. 31st," said Rice, who took all of his reps on Monday without any pain. "But I got out there and it was really fun to be running around again. As soon as I made my first play, I was back to where I was. I was all excited just to make one play. It's the first play that I've made since the James Madison game, so that was exciting for me."

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