- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2006

Ray Rice was prepared to be a part of the long tradition of talented running backs at Syracuse.

From Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Floyd Little to Joe Morris and recent stars like James Mungro and Walter Reyes, the Orange have quite a history at the tailback position.

But Rice, a coveted recruit from New Rochelle, N.Y., who committed to Syracuse early in the process, was not happy when coach Paul Pasqualoni was fired after the 2004 season, and decided to look elsewhere.

“I think I was more loyal to Coach Pasqualoni than to Syracuse University,” Rice said. “I thought they were going to give him another year to change things. It bothered me when he was fired.”

Rice ended up choosing a long downtrodden program closer to home and the chance to build a new tradition — a winning program at Rutgers.

“It was the family atmosphere. When I came here it felt like I was home,” Rice said. “It is only an hour from my house and my family is there for every home game. And now I have my second family here.”

Despite Brian Leonard’s presence in the Scarlet Knights backfield, Rice forced his way into the starting lineup and the coaching staff found ways to get both players the ball. Rice finished his freshman season with 1,120 yards and Rutgers went 7-5 and earned an invitation to the Insight Bowl.

At many of the other BCS programs, 7-5 would not be reason to celebrate. But at the State University of New Jersey, where the football team hadn’t played in a postseason game since 1978 and had never played in one outside of the Garden State, it was cause for jubilation.

This season, with Rice as the feature back and Leonard as a jack-of-all-trades type, the Scarlet Knights are rolling. The season began with the Rutgers media relations staff promoting Leonard as a Heisman Trophy candidate, but Rice has forced his way into the discussion. He is second in the nation with 806 yards in five games, and Rutgers is undefeated and ranked No. 24 in the country.

Leonard’s carries are down but he leads the team in receptions with 19. Among his many roles with the team is mentoring the sophomore sensation that lines up in the backfield with him.

“[Rice] is such a good guy. He is a complete running back with great vision. I think he might have the fastest 10-yard burst of anyone I’ve ever seen,” Leonard said. “It is kind of a weird relationship, but we just connected. I took him under my wing. I first saw him at the Governor’s Bowl [a New York-New Jersey high school all-star game] and he was from New York like me so I kept my eye on him. He was making all these great runs and then at the end he was dancing and I thought, ‘Oh man, this kid is going to be cocky.’ But he’s not like that at all. He’s a good guy and he’s humble.”

After Rice backed out of his commitment to Syracuse, he convinced coach Greg Schiano to take his buddy and former high school teammate, safety Courtney Greene.

Greene, who spent Rice’s senior year of high school at Bridgton Academy in Maine, started every game as a true freshman and lead the team with 116 tackles — good enough for second in the Big East.

This season Greene leads the team in tackles and has an interception in three consecutive games.

“That’s my boy,” Rice said of Greene. “We’re roommates, classmates. We do everything together. He is a big hitter but he’s also become a sound tackler.”

The Scarlet Knights (5-0) travel to Annapolis to face Navy (5-1) tomorrow in their final nonconference game. Schiano took the Rutgers job in 2000 and had the Scarlet Knights on the verge of postseason action before Rice and Greene joined the team. Just getting to a bowl game isn’t the main objective anymore — competing for a Big East conference title is.

“Normally college football isn’t like college basketball where one or two kids can change a team’s fortunes,” said Tim Pernetti, who played at Rutgers and is an analyst for the Scarlet Knights radio network. He is also an Executive Vice President for content at College Sports Television. “But when you are talking about kids of this caliber, they can really make a difference … It is scary to think what their high school team must have been like to face.”

New Rochelle won a New York state championship in 2003 when Rice was a junior and Greene was a senior. Rice led them back to the title game in 2004 but lost to current Duke point guard Greg Paulus and Christian Brothers Academy.

“I am all about change,” Rice said. “People come up to us and they are excited. It feels good to get that kind of respect. It is a lot like high school. Our school was always close, and we put them over the top.”

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