Owls Make Big Impression

On just about a perfect day in Houston, over 200 junior recruits visited the Rice Campus today. While none committed, the days events left several with a great impression of what Rice, and Owl Football, are all about...

I ran into Coach David Bailiff at the Rice Junior Owl Camp this morning, and he was beaming with the biggest grin I've ever seen on the big guy's face.

I said "coach you look like you just won the lottery!"

His reply was, "did you see all the juniors here?!? We had 3 buses for the campus tour...and had to get 3 more! Isn't it great!?!?"

Indeed it was.

Lately it seems the football program has made a habit of setting records - they may have set one today for the number of juniors that showed up for Junior Day. They came to Rice to see for themselves what is becoming not only the best education in the Southwest, but now also a football program that's on the rise.

Who wouldn't want the opportunity to have the best of both academics and athletics?

I talked to several of the recruits on hand today and captured a few of their comments.

Adrian Bennett - Klein Forest WR/S/OLB "I really like the way the Safeties get to make plays in this Defense. It looks like they have a lot of fun and get to run to the ball and play. Football is about having fun, and these guys look like they enjoy playing for Rice."

Bennett attended Saturday's events with teammates Cameron Nwosu and Zach Bolton.

Lowell Williams - Missouri City Marshall LB "The campus was really nice. I had never really seen it before. And the game was great - I love the way the Linebackers get to make plays. The coaches do a great job of simplifying the game down to just playing football. I really like Rice a lot right now. It's tempting to just commit."

Williams is hearing from UCLA, Kansas, Louisville, Colorado State, Vanderbilt, and Oklahoma State.

Niko Carlson - Katy Taylor DL "This is really the first campus I've seen in the recruiting process. I'm really glad I came today because this place is beautiful. Its a great environment to get an education. I was really impressed."

Carlson won the Texas State Wrestling Championship this spring after moving to the area from Virginia late last fall. His recruiting stock is really taking off - he's also been invited to Spring Games at LSU and Texas A&M. Carlson told me he's getting hand-written letters from UCLA also.

Robert Scarpati - Cypress-Ridge DL "I had never seen the campus before and didn't realize how big it was. They told us the ratio of students to surface area of the campus is ranked among the top in the country. Its just a beautiful place."

Scarpati will be travelling to Fort Collins, CO in the coming weeks as an invited guest to take in the Colorado State Spring Game.

Other recruits on hand Saturday included TE/DE Chandler Hicks of Tulsa Holland Hall, RB Marston Jefferson of Arlington Martin, DL Justin Bremer of Quinlan Ford, DE Robert Green of Mansfield Legacy, TE Justin Havard of Diboll, DE Blake Green of Magnolia West, OC Paul Finnie of Wylie, Marcus Poullard of Pasadena Dobie, QB Jake Glover of Ft. Worth Brewer, and Keller Central RB Trenton Turrentine.

Turrentine (5-11 190 4.5) is an exciting RB prospect who had his season pre-empted by a knee injury last year. He told me he is "pretty much focused on Rice right now," when I asked what schools he liked.

Rice fans, as well as the high school juniors on hand had to be impressed (many said they were) with what they saw on the field Saturday.

The Owls played Offense vs. Defense in a game that awarded points for various plays of significance.

The Gray (Defense) prevailed 46-44, but the Blue (Offense) had lots of big plays on the day.

Nick Fanuzzi perhaps stepped forward in the Quarterback competition. The sophomore transfer from Alabama connected on 6-of-8 passes for 136 yards and 3 touchdowns. Among the big plays was a 75-yard touchdown strike to Toren Dixon.

Not to be outdone, senior John Thomas Shepherd completed 10-of-15 passes, also for 136 yards. He also connected for a big play of his own, hitting Corbin Smiter of an 84 yard bomb. Smiter was ruled down before crossing the goal line however. Shepherd did throw an interception however.

Being counted upon to replace the production of NFL bound Jarett Dillard and James Casey; the duo of Dixon and Smiter didn't disappoint. Smiter had 3 cathces for 116 yards, while Dixon hauled in 3 catches for 90 yards. As mentioned both came up with big plays.

Running Back Tyler Smith had a terrific day as he continues a miraculous recovery from a devastating knee injury suffered against UTEP in 2007. He led all rushers with 62 yards on 6 carries; and also had 5 catches for 31 yards.

The defense won the war Saturday behind strong Defensive Line play. Sacks were not recorded Saturday in the interest of protecting the QBs. However Scott Solomon notched 3 "down by contact", and Arnaud Gascon Nadon and Cheta Ozougwu would have as well.

Perhaps the most surprising play came from interior linemen John Gioffre and Brian Stacey, who were both very active and commended by Coach David Bailiff after the game.

At Linebacker, Aaron Williams, Scott Nordstrom and Ronnie Lillard all made standout plays. Nordstrom and Terrance Garmon each recorded interceptions.

Perhaps the most bittersweet plays of the game involved two players we won't see in the 2009 season.

Running Back Sam McGuffie wowed the Rice Stadium crowd with a spectacular, long run and would finish the day with 4 carries, but for 40 yards. He was also involved in a play that spotlighted another player sitting out in 2009. Idaho transfer LB Justin Allen shot through a hole in the Rice Offensive blocking scheme to bring down McGuffie for a 5 yard loss.

Only 5-11 210 pounds, Allen showed the form that made him the Class 5A Texas Defensive Player of the Year as a senior at Cedar Park High School.

Oh well, the Owls have something special to look forward to from those two for sure.

Overall, the weather, the turnout, and the progress in motion at Rice put smiles on all those in attendance Saturday. What a great day to be a Rice Owl!

We'll have more updates in the coming days as we contact recruits attending Junior Day. Spring practice wraps up on Wednesday.

Offensive game stats from today are available at riceowls.com.

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