Every fall Friday night in Florida a passion burns for football in the Sunshine State. It’s an energy that comes from the depths of the hearts and souls of players from Pensacola to Key West.
For 48 minutes it’s displayed between the lines. The passion comes to life once a week and every player in the state, in America for that matter, gets to release pent-up emotions that have been stirring for seven days.
For some, however, that passion and energy plays out with every minute of every day. Sure, most every player will tell you his life IS football.
J.D. Rice doesn’t have to tell you anything. It’s obvious. He is the heart and soul of Lake Nona football
“I try to be a leader in everything I do. My dad instills that into me,” says the junior offensive and defensive lineman. He’s the son of a preacher and a football coach, which might seem like an odd combination, but the Rice family embodies a quality of community leadership and J.D. takes it as his responsibility to be a leader on his football team.
“We come from a very outstanding family and we are always trying to be the best we can be,” Rice said. “Not only out here [on football field] but trying to be an outstanding person in the community, as well.
“I just try to take ahold of these guys and bring them together when they need it.”
His father, Barry Rice, is a Lake Nona assistant and team chaplin who heads a community congregation called the Go Church, which meets every Sunday at Lake Nona High. It’s a community effort that has taken off in popularity. He also helps run the local youth football leagues and J.D. is instrumental in all phases, as well.
“I think he can play with the best of them,” says dad. "He’s a little bit shorter than some of the offensive linemen who are going to the big schools, but one of the things that you can’t measure is heart and that’s what he has.
“He has a tremendous love for this game. You don’t have to beg him to work out. … He’s self-motivated, he’s smart and has a great feel for the game. It’s been a joy to watch him and not just in football. I’ll be proud no matter what, and I am proud, but football is a means to an end and that end is to get a good education.”
Pound-for-pound, inch-for-inch, at 6-foot-2, 270, Rice might be the best two-way lineman in Central Florida.
“J.D. is a great leader on and off the field,” Lake Nona head coach Anthony Paradiso said. “He has played at a high level since he started as a freshman and continues to develop as one of the area’s top players.”
The college recruiters are starting to take notice. He has scholarship offers from FBS-member Georgia Southern and FCS-affiliated Charleston Southern.
Other expressing early interest are Appalachian State and Liberty, where his father played in the late 80's and was teammates with Orlando First Academy head coach Leroy Kinard.
Rice plays both positions well. He has great upper-body strength and takes advantage of his tremendous foot-speed to help maneuver in the trenches.
He says he doesn’t have a position preference. He just wants to play. He’d run through a wall for his coach. He’ll be first in line for sprints and his hand is always first in the air when it comes time for the end-of-the-day team prayer.
He leads in whatever way he can.
“To be honest, I will play in whatever position the coach puts me,” said Rice, who is the No. 30-ranked player in the Sentinel's 2015 Central Flordia Super60. “If I absolutely had to have a preference, it would probably be on the offensive side of the ball playing either center or guard.
“Me and my dad, during the off-season, we do a lot of footwork because one of the greatest things you can have as a lineman, is really good feet, especially as an offensive lineman, being able to pull and get up field, and that’s what I try to do.”
He faces plenty of taller, bigger players, but he uses technique, intelligence and, again, there are those feet.
“I work hard on everything, whether it be in the weight room, on the field … with footwork, just trying to be faster, and working on my hands and being more physical,” Rice said. “The other guys may have a bigger body mass, but I’m going to try to outwork them every single time.”
Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coverage coordinator and can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Twitter at @Os_Recruiting and Facebook at Orlando Sentinel Recruiting and now on Pinterest at Orlando Recruiting.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun