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When an NFL head coach looks into his backfield, what does he hope to see? A playmaker—a guy who can pick up yardage or even go the distance when there’s nothing there. In Ray Rice, the Baltimore Ravens have that and more. After five outstanding seasons and a Super Bowl win, Ray has proven to be one of the league’s most elusive backs, averaging five yards every time he takes a handoff and reeling in 60–plus passes a year. He also owns the second-longest run in NFL postseason history. For Baltimore fans who love their smash-mouth football, Ray comes up big in this category, too. Despite being one of the shortest players in a generation, he gives as good as he gets. This is his story…

GROWING UP

Raymell Maurice Rice was born on January 22, 1987 in New Rochelle, New York.  Raymell—or Ray for short—was the youngest of four kids. His mother, Janet, taught special needs children.

Ray never knew his father, Calvin Reed. In 1988, he was gunned down in a drive-by shooting. Ray’s cousin, MyShaun, stepped in to provide male guidance when needed. But Myshaun was killed by a drunk driver when Ray was 10. At that point, Ray figured he’d better learn how to take care of himself.

Ray was not a big kid, and he didn't expect to be a tall, imposing adult. His mother stands a hair under five feet tall. But Ray was strong, smart and fast. He gravitated to football and basketball, where he learned how to stay low to the ground to navigate through the forest of taller players.

As Ray began playing organized football in the youth leagues of Westchester, he gained a reputation as a battering ram. His strong legs also made him a good punter and place kicker—two jobs he held until he got to college. Ray wasn’t a bad defensive back either. He loved to break up passes and meet runners who broke through the line. He also had soft hands and good anticipation.

When Ray watched NFL games on TV, he was drawn to running backs who didn’t shy away from contact. His favorite was Eddie George of the Tennessee Titans. To this day, he wears George’s #27.

In 2001, Ray enrolled at New Rochelle High School. One of the top high schools in the country, NRHS was never known for producing great athletes. Its notable alumnae include director Elia Kazan, actor Richard Roundtree, sports radio personality Craig Carton, billionaire Jerome Kohlberg and Henry Heimlich, inventor of the Heimlich Maneuver. Quite a mixed bag. Ray is already the best pro athlete the school has produced.

In 2002, during his sophomore year, Ray established himself as one of the top players on coach Lou DiRienzo’s varsity football squad. He was flanked by Glen Lee and Courtney Greene. Both of these stars would also be college teammates of Ray’s.

Ray became the featured back as a junior for the Huguenots, gaining over 1,000 yards and scoring 21 times. He led NRHS to the state championship. A few months later, as point guard for the basketball team, he helped the Huguenots reach the state finals.

In Ray’s senior season, he was the team’s dominant star. He gained 1,192 yards on 112 carries and scored 31 touchdowns.  Once again, the Huguenots made it to the state title game, but this time they were defeated by Christian Brothers Academy and their two-sport superstar, Greg Paulus. After the season, Ray was named First Team All-State as a running back.

By this time, Ray was narrowing down his college choices. He was most impressed by coach Paul Pasqualoni of Syracuse and committed to the Orangemen. But when the school fired Pasqualoni that spring, Ray changed his mind. He felt he owed his loyalty to the outgoing coach, not to Syracuse. This opened the door for the schools that had missed out the first time around. Greg Schiano, the dynamic young coach of Rutgers, convinced Ray that the Scarlet Knights were on the verge of snapping a 14-season losing streak. He told Ray that he had a chance to be part of something great.

ON THE RISE

As Schiano promised, in 2005, Ray’s freshman year, Rutgers turned in its first winning season since 1990. Ray worked his way into the starting lineup during a campaign that energized the New Jersey campus. He finished the season with 1,120 yards and five touchdowns. Ray’s best game came against UConn. He tore through the Huskies for 217 yards.

The Scarlet Knights went 7–4, including a 4–3 mark in the Big East. That December, the team played in its second-ever bowl game, the Insight Bowl. Rutgers put up a great fight in a 45–40 loss to Arizona State. The Scarlet Knights actually led 24–17 at the half, but the defense collapsed in the final 30 minutes.


Eddie George, 2003 Playoff
           
     

As a sophomore, Ray set a school record with 1,794 yards, including a 225-yard performance against Pitt. He also scored 20 touchdowns.

With the Rice-Leonard tandem sharing the backfield and sophomore Mike Teel calling the signals, the Scarlet Knights beat several quality teams, including UNC, Illinois, Syracuse, Pitt, South Florida and Louisville. The win over the Cardinals was the most electric game of the year—Louisville was the #3 team in the country at the time. Rutgers actually snuck into the Top 10 before losing to Cincinnati and West Virginia late in the year. The Scarlet Knights finished with the #12 national ranking.

In the season-ending Texas Bowl, Ray rolled up 170 yards in a 37–10 drubbing of Kansas State. It was the first bowl win in school history—quite a drought considering Rutgers was one of the two colleges that participated in America’s first football game, in 1869.

Ray was part of a group of fearless, confident players that had helped transform Rutgers football. Like Ray—who at 5-8 had not been considered Grade A beef when he began his college career—their love of football and never-say-die spirit more than made up for any physical shortcomings. 

In 2007, for the first time in their history, the Scarlet Knights entered a football season nationally ranked. They were pegged at #16 in most polls. Early losses to Maryland and Cincinnati squashed any hopes of a national title, but in mid-October, Rutgers managed to pick off the nation’s #2 team, the South Florida Bulls. Coach Schiano used every trick in the book to win 30–27.

Ray battered the South Florida defense. He gained 181 yards—many of those coming with defenders riding his back. Ray was thought of as a speed back, but in this game, he showed that he could be a power back when his team needed tough yards. Late in the game, Ray fumbled, giving South Florida a chance to win. The Rutgers defense—which recorded seven sacks in the game—stepped up and denied the Bulls. It was a team effort in the truest sense, and one of the proudest moments of Ray’s life.

Ray’s best statistical game during the 2007 regular season came against Army. He set a school record with 243 yards in a 41–6 rout. The previous record-holder was Terrell Willis.

Ray outdid himself in the International Bowl against Ball State, upping his own mark to 280 yards. Rutgers triumphed 52–30. It was the school’s eighth win against five losses. In what would prove to be his last college game, Ray was named the MVP. 
   

Ray Rice & Brian Leonard, 2008 HIT
           
     

Three days later, Ray announced that he would skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft. In 38 games for the Scarlet Knights, Ray set school records with 4,926 career yards and 49 touchdowns. Only Lee Suggs of Virginia Tech found the end zone more often for a Big East school.

Come April, there were a lot of talented runners on the board in the first two rounds of the draft—including Chris Johnson, Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart, Rashard Mendenhall, Jamaal Charles, Kevin Smith and Matt Forte. Ray lasted until the second round, when the Ravens called his name. Baltimore had veteran Willis McGahee in the backfield, but the club needed a young talent like Ray to back him up.

As it turned out, McGahee missed huge chunks of time in 2008 thanks to a variety of injuries. Fullback LeRon McLain picked up most of the slack when the star was sidelined. Ray saw lots of action, too.

The Ravens, meanwhile, handed the quarterback job to fellow rookie Joe Flacco. The team had a killer defense led by Ed Reed and Ray Lewis. Baltimore simply needed a passer who could manage it’s ground-based offense. Flacco proved up to the task.

The Ravens rebounded from three straight early-season losses to go 9–2 in the final 11 games. They finished at 11-5 to secure a playoff berth. 

Ray got plenty of touches as a rookie. He actually led the team with 22 carries on the season’s opening weekend. Later in the year, he ran for 154 yards against the Cleveland Browns. In all, he gained 454 yards on 107 carries and caught 33 passes for 273 yards.

By playoff time, Ray was feeling the pain of a long season andhad to sit out the Wild Card game against the Miami Dolphins. Fortunately, Baltimore didn’t need him. The defense ate up Chad Pennington and the Miami offense. The Ravens caused five turnovers in a 27–9 win.

A week later, Baltimore got a taste of its own medicine in Pittsburgh. The Steelers put the defensive clamps on the Ravens and won 23–14. Late in the game, McGahee absorbed a vicious hit and had to be carted off the field. The sight was particularly painful for Ray to watch. He learned a lot from McGahee about the NFL. He especially appreciated what a difference quick feet made in the pros. He would take that lesson into the 2009 season.

MAKING HIS MARK

After the beating absorbed by McGahee, the Ravens elevated Ray to the starting lineup ahead of his mentor. By limiting McGahee’s carries, coach John Harbaugh hoped to keep him relatively fresh and injury-free. McGahee could save his best for the Ravens when Flacco got the team into the red zone.

Ray ran for 108 yards in the season's first game, a 38–24 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. He scored his first touchdown as a pro in Week 3 against the Browns, as the Ravens took their third straight. The formula was simple. Ray got the lion’s share of the carries, and then McGahee would be inserted to punch the ball into the end zone. By season’s end, Ray would amass over 1,000 yards and McGahee would reach double-digits in the touchdown department.
   

Ray Rice, 2008 Upper Deck Heroes
           
     

But it was far from a smooth campaign. Baltimore hit a rough patch starting in October and lost six of nine games. Playing from behind so often, Flacco was forced to put the ball in the air. While this diminished Ray’s rushing stats somewhat, it gave him a chance to show off his receiving skills. He reeled in an extraordinary number of passes, albeit often in losing causes.
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