Ravens’ rookie Ray Rice has a big heart

Street Talk Ravens’ rookie Ray Rice has a big heart

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OWINGS MILLS — An artist’s rendering of Ray Rice captures him sprinting with the football in an oil painting, immortalizing the diminutive, muscular running back in his Rutgers uniform.

The painting by Daniel A. Moore is called "Resurgence," depicting Rice dashing free behind a Brian Leonard block to set up the game-winning field goal in an epic upset victory over Louisville.

The Baltimore Ravens’ rookie is unforgettable in another manner to his personal cheering section, but not for his newfound NFL status or how he helped resurrect the Scarlet Knights’ program with his powerful running style.

For the special-needs children at Henry Barnard School in his hometown of New Rochelle, N.Y., Rice is simply their buddy. He’s the one always coming by to encourage their progress when he visits the preschool classroom of his mother, Janet Rice, a special-education teacher.

"When they see Ray, their faces light up like lightning," said Janet Rice in a telephone interview. "He’ll walk into a room and they rush over to him. He’s very good to them. Even as we speak, Ray will periodically peek in on the kids during his time off just to say hello. I told him if you put out a lot of love, you’re going to receive a lot of love.
"I have a passion for what I do working with disabled children. I have a lot of love, and Ray shares that. He doesn’t baby them or make them feel like they’re special needs children or treat them any differently, but he interacts and gives them a lot of love. He makes them feel special and never tells them, ‘No.’"

And it’s a mutual feeling for Rice, the Ravens’ second-round draft pick.

For years, Rice has been relaying a simple, eloquent message to the kids of how much he cares.

"It means a lot to me when I get to see them," Rice said. "The term special to me means that the kids are gifted and they can do everything we can, just a little differently. I watch the way my mother relates to them and it’s amazing."

Janet Rice marvels over how patient her son is while playing catch with the children or pushing them continually on the swing set. Typically, he’ll hold conversations with them about football or music or favorite television shows.

During a break from school last year, Rice visited four schools in two weeks. He was also a summer counselor who specialized in teaching kickball.

"We have a lot of fun," Rice said. "Each time, I get a chance to see my mom and the kids I really look forward to it. These kids may be called special-needs, but I think it’s special the way they really know what’s going on and they just have a different way of showing how much they really care and appreciate things."

Rice also understands adversity. When he was only a year old, his father, Calvin Reed, was killed in a drive-by shooting. A close cousin died in a car accident a decade ago.

Janet Rice raised her four children as a single mother on her teacher’s income, often working extra jobs.

Born six weeks early at five pounds, 11 ounces, Rice has always been small, but sturdy. Generously listed at 5-foot-8 on the Ravens’ roster, Rice is a power-paced 205 pounds.

"As he began to grow, he grew into muscle," Janet Rice said. "At even eight, nine months, people asked how can this little child have a build like that. Before he was a year old, he began to walk like a little man."

Rice was riding a bicycle without training wheels by the time he was two. By the time he was 16, he broke a basketball rim on a slam dunk and nearly pulled down the backboard.

Rice inherited his size and his toughness from his mother.

Janet Rice is only 4-foot-11, but she’s feisty. She was known at Rutgers for her loud voice in the stands, shouting over the marching band and the cheerleaders.

Wearing her son’s bowl rings on a necklace, she made it a habit of yelling, ‘Get up!’ whenever her son was tackled. And he would jump up from the pile and lift two fingers in the air to acknowledge her.

"I call myself 5-feet, but I’m really not," Janet Rice said. "I always talk loud and people look at me like, ‘She’s so small,’ and wonder where does all that voice come from. I have a lot of adrenaline during games.

"People underestimate him, but Ray never talks. He just goes out and does it. Everything he’s achieving, all the accomplishments, I’m just proud. There’s no other words I can use to explain it."

Rice grew up in a tough project called "The Hollows," but avoided trouble and devoted his time to exercising and studying.

On his mother’s birthday, he bought her roses and strawberry shortcake.
"He’s always been a good boy," Janet Rice. "As a mom, I couldn’t be more pleased."

One of Rice’s dreams is to move his mother out of a New Rochelle public housing complex to own a house of her own.

"I always tell him, ‘Don’t worry about it, son," Janet Rice said. "It will all happen in due time. I just want him to be happy and to not worry about me."

Drafted with the 55th overall pick, Rice arrived in Baltimore with humble expectations. He just wants to complement featured runner Willis McGahee the way he worked in tandem with Brian Leonard as a freshman.

"Willis is established, sort of the way Brian was established," Rice said. "I can come in and contribute, just like I contributed my freshman year. I’m not going to say, ‘I’m going to take his spot.’ If I can lessen the load on him, then I’m doing my job."

"Obviously, I was drafted in the second round. So, they are expecting something from me. I just have to go out there and perform and compete."

Rice is Rutgers’ all-time leader with 4,926 rushing yards and 49 touchdown runs. Last season, the second-team All-American finished third in the nation with 2,012 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns.

Now, he’s eager to prove himself in the NFL.

"I just hope to show them I can be a playmaker," Rice said. "I can do different things. I can run the ball and I can catch. I want to be a guy that when I’m put in the game, I won’t be a letdown. I want to be the guy who provides the spark to this team."

So far, Rice has demonstrated that a lack of ideal size won’t be an issue. He has been absorbing the playbook and concentrating on bursting through holes and freezing linebackers with his fluid moves.

"You’ve heard the old saying, ‘It’s the size of the heart that makes a great player,’" said offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who has a history of success with smaller players like Doug Flutie, Darren Sproles and Tim Dwight. "If we felt like size was an issue, he probably wouldn’t be here. This kid has got a great heart."

And Rice has got a mom that’s firmly behind her son. She plans to drive down from New York on a regular basis to attend his games at M&T Bank Stadium.

"I’m going to try to make it to every game," Janet Rice said. "I was thrilled when he got drafted and I realized how close he was going to be. Ray’s my first-born, and we always communicate and dream big together."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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Aaron Wilson

About Aaron Wilson

Aaron Wilson covers the NFL for National Football Post as well as the Baltimore Ravens for The Carroll County Times and Ravens24x7.com. He has previously covered the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans and has covered the NFL since 1997.  He has won several regional writing awards, including, most recently, Best Sports News Story for the state of Maryland in voting conducted by the Associated Press managing editors. 

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