LIVERMORE, Calif. -- Eight days ago, Justin Rice paid a visit to his older brother Jared’s future school – Fresno State – but before he visited the Bulldogs, he scored not only the coveted offer from the hometown team, but also one from San Jose State. Now, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound athlete out of Modesto (Calif.) Central Catholic is finally getting the ball rolling with his recruitment, a ball that won’t slow down any time soon.
“I saw their practice, and it was really intense,” Rice said of his Fresno State visit. “You could tell that they mean business. Coach talked to me, and told me that they’re looking at me at DB or running back. They have some small backs, so they’re looking for a bigger back, next year.”
On the hoof, Rice is certainly an intriguing athlete. He’s powerfully built, but not overly so. He’s lean and long enough to play safety or inside receiver, but has the broad chest and big legs to play running back. Where he could most easily project, though, is linebacker. He’s got a strong power base with a narrow waist, and good speed to cover ground across the middle.
At the Passing Down NorCal Regional 7-on-7 tournament, he played corner, safety and linebacker, as well as receiver.
“I feel comfortable at safety, and anything on offense,” Rice said. “I’m comfortable everywhere.”
The first time we saw Rice, at the Kenion Training 7-on-7 kickoff event just after National Signing Day, Rice made several leaping catches over the middle and showed plus athleticism. He made three catches in each of his final two games at the Passing Down event, in traffic, on fades and a comeback, with three touchdowns.
Rice visited San Jose State and Nevada last weekend, and will go up to Boise State and then California’s spring game on April 18.
Rice also visited Berkeley for the Bears’ junior day.
“It was really nice,” he said. “It was different, because I went up there with my brother last year, and didn’t get a lot of attention, but this year, they’re talking to me, and I can tell they’re interested.”
Rice spoke with former running backs coach and current outside receivers coach Pierre Ingram, who was his original recruiter, as well as defensive backs coach Greg Burns.
“They said they’re recruiting me as an athlete,” Rice said.
The Bears have several “athletes” coming in with the 2015 class, including speedy Billy McCrary (safety/receiver) and four-star Jaylinn Hawkins (corner/receiver), and while Rice is a bit thicker than those two, he easily fits that mold.
“They like my versatility,” Rice said. “They like how I’m a bigger back, and that I fit the safety build, too.”
Depending on a math test, Rice could have a 3.2 or a 3.4 GPA this quarter, a big bump up from last year, he said.
“I did well my first semester of my junior year, got a 3.0, and Cal wants to see the progression come up from my freshman year to show that I’ve matured, and I hope I’m doing that with a 3.2, 3.4,” Rice said.
As for offers that Rice still covets, the Bears and the Broncos are at the top of the list, and though Fresno State has a lot going for it, the Bulldogs don’t have the early lead.
“It’s always nice, because my brother’s there and it’s so close, so it’s very convenient, but I want to keep my options open,” he said. “It’d still be fun to play Fresno State.”