Is it too much to ask for John Rice to play just one down that matters?
After five years as a walk-on defensive back for California who has never played a down, Rice is hoping he’ll get a shot in Saturday’s season finale against the Golden Bears’ top rival, Stanford.
“I can’t tell you what that would mean,” he told San Francisco Chronicle columnist Tim Keown. “Even just one play. This is the Big Game. It’s the last time I’ll ever have a chance.”
It doesn’t seem like much to ask in return for five years of practice, five years of hitting and being hit, then standing on the sidelines while others take the field.
“Every year is always a new year,” Rice said. “You never expect to be a practice player, but everybody has a role to play. I play my role.
“I stayed with it. A lot of people walk on here or at other schools and never finish it. I’ve always said I finish what I start.”
Rice, a fifth-year senior, played high school ball at Pittsburg High. He came to Cal, made the team as a freshman and has had to win his spot every year.
Rice has other outstanding qualities besides his grit. He works for a charity organization called I Have A Dream which twice a week tutors a fourth-grade class in nearby Oakland. He convinced 30 teammates to do the same.
Before Cal’s game against Oregon, Rice rounded up 150 tickets and passed them out to his fourth-graders.
Rice has big dreams. He wants to become the state’s education superintendent and then the U.S. Secretary of Education. He will graduate in May with a degree in education and a 3.3 grade-point average. He’ll start work on a doctorate next year.
OK, so Rice is a great guy. But what is it that keeps him coming back, year after year, only to watch on the bench as more talented teammates take the field each Saturday?
“The team and the coaches kept me coming back,” he said. “These are my friends, and without them I’d be alone here.”
Is he going to get his shot?
“Early in the week, Coach (Tom) Holmoe told me to be ready,” he said. “Nobody’s ever told me that before.”