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Notre Dame Football Recruiting

Top 2022 OL Zach Rice Stars On & Off The Field

June 22, 2021
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2022 Liberty Christian (Va.) offensive lineman Zach Rice‍ has always been big - on and off the field. 

The massive 6-foot-6, 285-pounder is one of the top offensive linemen in the country and size has been an advantage throughout his entire life. 

"He's always been a big guy," said Rice's mother, Mary. "He's always been the biggest kid on whatever team he's played on. When I really started seeing the skill was probably at eight years old. 

"He was just lining up and getting over 10 sacks a game. That's no exaggeration. It was crazy. State Championship on his AAU travel team and going to nationals, seriously competing for a national championship early and then an eighth grade Under Armour All American."

The Lynchburg native not only was big, but he was talented. Rice earned MVPs and had good showings at several high school camps as a middle schooler, and most didn't even realize he was the youngest on the field. 

Rice's future coach Frank Rocco realized it and made sure his mother also understood her son had the potential to be great.

Rocco had seen this before as he coached NFL offensive lineman Bobby Massie in high school.

"He's got so many pieces of the puzzle," Ms. Rice stated. "Coach did a lot of comparisons and how far ahead of the game Zach was - nothing disrespectful to Bobby Massie at all, but just as far as how much Zach likes to work. He's not afraid of the workouts and things like that.

“He loves it. He craves it and wants to get better and is pushing himself. He's always really spoken highly of that."

The work ethic is something that's come naturally for Rice, but he's also been in a competitive environment his whole life. 

Rice’s family is filled with athletes, including his grandfather, Maynard Rice, who played at Virginia. 

"Football and sports are major in our family," explained Ms. Rice. "I was told as a kid, if you want to go to college, you got to get a scholarship.

"So it's always been something that's been heavily encouraged in our family. It's been such a blessing to us. My brother and myself, my dad, we all had full college scholarships. My nephew played football in college as well. It's been sort of a family thing. The goal has always been to get a scholarship to play in college. That's been something that he's wanted for as long as I could remember." 

Irish Sports Daily
Zach and Mary Rice

GOALS

The family history speaks for itself and Rice never had to develop a work ethic as he never has needed too much pushing from others. 

Yet, the turning point for Rice might have been going to the Under Armour All-American game as a middle schooler as the fire was officially lit when he realized his potential. 

"It certainly turned to a different level once he went to that eighth grade Under Armour All-American game,” Ms. Rice said. “His goal was to make it back as a senior. He played the whole game as an eighth-grader and did very well. He saw he could really compete on a national level with other kids." 

The confidence made Rice dig deeper and he found more motivation after seeing he wasn’t just the best player in his town. 

"We're from a small town, so he saw he was as good or better than a lot of kids nationally. He kept working and pushing himself, trying to get better. I think it clicked and he saw that he could be one of the best.” 

Those around Rice saw the change as well. In fact, Rice was pulled up to play high school competition as an eighth-grader and that also developed a new mindset.

“I'd say around that time, I saw a major change because they brought him up to JV as an eighth-grader,” said Ms. Rice. “He really had to change. He really had to start thinking about his body and everything. I mean, it's different. It gets very tough.” 

Oh, Rice did accomplish that goal as he committed to the Under Armour All-American Game in May of 2020. 

BALANCE

Rice has had big goals since a young age and he’s tackled them head-on. He’ll be the first to tell you he’s not done achieving his goals, but he’s already accomplished his fair share. 

Most kids are simply looking to find self-motivation at Rice’s age, but he found it much earlier, which speaks to how he was raised and his maturity. 

"He's always been a fun-loving kid," Ms. Rice explained. "He likes to goof off and be silly, but I think he's always known there is a time and a place for everything. When it comes to football, it's always been a level of seriousness. He recognized the game of football can take him places and put him in rooms that he may not have otherwise been.” 

The Liberty Christian star holds over 40 offers and he hasn’t lost focus. Rice is still the same kid he was two years ago that he is today.

“I think he's been pretty mature about it all,” stated Ms. Rice. “He's a 17-year-old young man that is serious about going to college. He knows academics go hand in hand with that. I'd say it definitely has developed and improved, but I think he's always been pretty mature and serious when it comes to sports.” 

Rice has also found the middle ground of balancing his goals with not taking the moment too seriously. The composite five-star prospect has a big personality and likes to joke around with just about everybody he meets. 

"He's always laughing and playing around,” laughed Ms. Rice. “He'll mess with me. He'll want to get a reaction from me and think it's funny. He's always joking and messing with his friends. He likes to have fun. They like to just talk smack to each other, but it's all in love and fun."

BIG HEART

The fun-loving Rice also makes sure to show a selfless side with those in his circle. Rice just got his license and is now repaying his friends that gave him rides to show his appreciation. 

"He just got his license because COVID held him up,” Ms. Rice explained. “He's super excited about having his license and he got a car. So that's like his new thing. All of his buds that gave him rides - he wants to go out and help them out and give them a ride or do something for them.”

Rice has also become a mentor in the last year as he's become great friends with a local kid named Xavier. 

The two workout together and Rice has essentially adopted Xavier as a little brother. 

“He likes like helping and mentoring other little kids too,” said Ms. Rice. “He's got a young man that he calls his brother who goes by “X” and he's really good at basketball and he's ranked nationally.

"They look like they could be brothers. Me and his mom and his grandmother joke all the time because they look like brothers. Zach takes him to go work. He swears X is going to be the next No. 1 offensive tackle in the nation, but X is so into basketball. Zach thinks he's going to convert him, but he really just loves hanging out with younger kids.

"He'll work a camp. He'll do whatever to give back. He's very respectful. If he knows you're down to earth and he gets more used to you, he'll joke around, but other than that, he's a yes sir, no sir guy. I appreciate that."

Irish Sports Daily
Zach and Xavier

THE PROCESS

The recruiting process is fun, but stressful. It can take open many doors in positive ways and take a toll on families at the same time. 

It's easy to get caught in the glamour of the process, but Rice isn’t one of those kids as he's handled it well to this point. 

"I think he's every bit of the same kid as when it started,” explained Ms. Rice. “I think it can get overwhelming getting the number of phone calls and texts he gets. He had to figure it out because he went to school, unlike many kids, especially here in Virginia.

"He was in school full-time all year, face-to-face. Then he had practice and workouts and homework to do once he got home. You've got coaches and different people wanting your time and wanting to Zoom." 

Rice trimming down his offers to a top group became necessary as the calls and requests piled up.

The cut allowed life to get a little more back to normal, but Rice also dialed back it with the media as well. 

"I think it can get overwhelming and that's why he went to the Top 8 and now to the Top 5,” Ms. Rice explained. “It's what he sort of had to do. We had to limit the interviews and things like that because he has to get the proper rest and sleep to maintain his grades and all of that.

“I think it's just knowing when to set a limit and knowing what you're able to do. You have to know when to cut your recruiting back when you need to so it doesn't consume you so you can still be a 17-year-old you man at the end of the day so you can enjoy the ride." 

Rice is now using his official visits to narrow down on a school. Notre Dame will get its shot this weekend and after the trip, Rice will then start to dive deep into what he saw from all his top schools this month. 

"He's in a good spot with it," said Ms. Rice. "He's really enjoyed his visits and he's looking forward to going to Notre Dame this weekend.

"He'll come back after the visit and do some pros and cons and really get serious about the process. If we have any other questions, get them answered and really figure out where he'll start his next chapter." 

 
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