Is last season’s Sugar Bowl loss motivation for UGA? ‘Yeah, we lost. Who wants to lose?’ Rice says
Each time Monty Rice steps in front of the red backdrop to speak with reporters, something becomes blatantly obvious. There are other places he’d prefer to be.
That’s the case with most Georgia football players. They aren’t worried about the media and how they generate stories throughout the season. They’re taught to be respectful, but also to take a certain approach — seemingly vanilla at times — to answering questions.
Rice, in terms of his demeanor, mirrors standard procedure. He stands tall, clasps his hands below his chest and waits for each question in a 12-minute session with a blank stare. But after a quick listen to his responses, a different quality can be noticed about Georgia’s starting linebacker.
Simply put, he’s not the type to ramble.
“I’ve always been like that,” Rice said last September when this reporter noticed his uniqueness. “I like to do what I gotta do.”
He’s a man of few words. Each of which, however, are rich with meaning. Rice’s comebacks are raw and without much of coach-speak. Instead, he tells things as they are, displays little emotion and sprinkles in a tidbit about life’s intersection with sport on occasion.
According to those who have a daily perspective on Rice’s approach to football, his approach extends beyond the media setting. There’s a deep-rooted seriousness in each way Rice pursues his football dreams.
Remember when he called a Georgia coach in the Samuel Clemens (Ala.) High School bathroom in a panic after announcing intentions to play at LSU? A right fit meant that much to him. He devoted ample time during the offseason to knowing every intricacy of Georgia’s defensive playbook. Winning means that much to him.
A perfect fit for a program that embraces the same goals as its defensive leader.
“Monty is a businessman. He’s not cutting up or messing around at practice,” head coach Kirby Smart said Monday. “He’s very serious about what he does. He’s got a purpose about him. He buys in and he leads. We love the way he practices.”
Rice is a fun guy too, even if it’s hard to discern from an outsider’s eye. He’s comfortable opening up around teammates and might approach them in a quiet manner for a big “Gotcha!” moment. Quarterback Jake Fromm gets lightly punched in the arm from behind on a fair amount of occasions. Well, from a 235-pound man, it’s probably not one that feels too good.
“‘Monty, I’m not as big and strong as you. You can’t be doing that,’” Fromm recalls telling the linebacker, followed by his patented chuckle.
On those rare occasions, Rice might find himself having a little fun on the practice field. Buried within the tough demeanor is an exuberance.
Some of those shenanigans happen with Fromm — a player who can bust out a laugh in any situation. In live drills, Fromm stares at Rice (the so-called quarterback of the defense as he relays calls). Rice injects a bit of trash talk by ending the staredown with a wink as if to say, “Hey buddy, I’m coming to get you.”
“Monty is a great friend,” Fromm said. “I’m glad he’s the guy looking at me on defense right now. Hopefully he won’t hit me too hard.”
Rice recorded 59 tackles as a sophomore; the third-highest total among the Bulldogs’ defense. He displayed speed, aggressive tackling and intelligence with scheme.
While emerging as a force in 2018, an injury bug stymied Rice’s potential of a star-type season. A nagging MCL sprain limited playing time during the beginning of SEC play. Then, as Georgia found its late-season stride, Rice suffered a fluke foot injury in warmups ahead of the game against UMass.
He had frustration, and certainly justified. Rice said he saw it as “God telling him to slow down,” and tried alternative methods of recovery. He practiced yoga and frequent dry needling to prevent recurrence of injury in the 2019 season.
A new-look Rice took patience and a designed plan. And about approaching football? It’s the same Rice as always.
He bluntly stated a need to avoid “silly mistakes” he made as a sophomore. A reporter then asked how the sour ending to Georgia’s 11-3 season affects his drive.
“We lost. Who wants to lose?” he said. “That has been on my mind all (offseason) and I didn’t even get to play against Texas. … We have a lot of stuff to do this year. I’ve got a bunch of motivation.”
A few seconds later, Rice cracked a smile as the frequent question about Alabama came his way. He knew exactly how to fire back, too.
A response one might expect from Rice. One that defines his mentality through football, recovery and everything in between.
Dedication. And in the place he’d rather talk. That’s prospering between the white lines.
“If we’re crying about it now,” Rice said, “what’s it going to change?”