Below is my story from today’s Journal News on Ray Rice giving back to his old school in advance of New Rochelle’s Class AA state championship victory on Saturday. I talked to Rice Monday night and he helped fill in some details on what was donated, how it ended up in New Rochelle and why he felt compelled to send it. (Don’t tell my editors it took me 600 words to find the answer: Because he really cares.)
Perhaps my favorite part of the story might be what Rice himself did Saturday. He watched every play of the game from his hotel room in San Diego, acting, he said, “like a crazed fan.” The next day he went out and helped the Ravens beat the Chargers with perhaps the best play of the NFL season. Fourth and 29? Ho-hum.
Obviously, our entire conversation didn’t fit into the story so I included more of Rice’s thoughts at the bottom of the post.
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Being stuck in San Diego is something of an oxymoron, but there was Ray Rice on Saturday afternoon, Pacific time, camped out in his hotel room watching the live stream of a game 3,000 miles away.
The football star from New Rochelle High School had his eyes glued to his laptop, watching his former team play for the Class AA state championship at Syracuse University’s Carrier Dome.
The All-Pro running back sat glued to every play of New Rochelle’s thorough 34-6 victory over Orchard Park, but his generosity had already played a role in the Huguenots’ drive to Syracuse.
Rice donated 55 Nike duffel bags and compression shirts and 55 pairs of the popular Beats By Dre headphones to the players, who were surprised by the goodies Thanksgiving afternoon.
“It just shows us how much he cares about New Rochelle football and how much he gives back to us,” New Rochelle senior Joe Clarke said.
Rice hatched the idea and coordinated the delivery with assistant coach Richie Tassello, who helps train the Baltimore Ravens star in the offseason.
With head coach Lou DiRienzo’s blessing, Tassello received the packages Wednesday and surprised the team with them during a meeting Thursday — two days before the state championship.
“We had known we were getting the bags, but we didn’t know we were getting the headphones,” senior quarterback Khalil Edney said.
The shirts and headphones — which retail for as much as $300 — were zipped up inside the bags.
“That was a surprise for us,” Edney said.
Rice’s support wasn’t. The 2005 New Rochelle graduate knows many of this year’s players by name.
He showed up unannounced to surprise them during a game against John Jay-East Fishkill last month, just as he did last season when crowds swarmed him at Mahopac High School.
Rice actually spends the bulk of his offseasons in New Rochelle and trains with Tassello in the high school weight room and on the school fields.
“Put it like this,” Rice said. “I’m a professional athlete and I was breathing hard during their workouts.
“I see the kind of work they put in. I’m a firm believer that hard work pays off. I just think that making it to the state championship, obviously, I wanted them to win it, but, for me to do what I did, I hope it gave them a little bit of a push to show them that their hard work is appreciated. To see them go ahead and take it all the way was even sweeter.”
On Thursday night, Rice was bombarded with tweets of gratitude from players.
He repaid DiRienzo with a phone call Saturday night while the team was still in Syracuse celebrating.
“I think the thing it speaks to is that our football program is just that – it is a program. Once you’re a part of New Rochelle High School football, you’re always a part of it,” DiRienzo said. “Ray happens to be a part of this program. Even though he’s gone on to tremendous heights, he still carries a piece of New Rochelle with him. He’s in a position to give back and he did. That speaks to his character as well.”
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RAY RICE, on donating to New Rochelle football and the team’s state championship
On why he sent the gifts:
“I’m up there with those guys all summer, basically my whole offsesaon. I see the kind of work those guys put in. I’m a firm believer in that hard work pays off. I just think that making it to the state championship, obviously, I wanted them to win it, but, for me to do what I did, I hope it gave them a little bit of a push to show them that their hard work is appreciated. To see them go ahead and take it all the way was even sweeter.”
“I’d do anything for those kids. Any time I get a chance to help them out I’m going to do it. I like when people work hard. I like to see hard work pay off.”
On the reaction from New Rochelle players:
“My Twitter blew up. All the kids were congratulating me. When I get back home, I’ll definitely see those guys. They know what it is. I already told them, love is love. I’m from there. It’s not like I don’t know these kids. When I get there, I’m just Ray to them. I’m not Ray Rice, the running back from the Ravens. I’m around them so much they’re used to seeing me around.”
On watching the game vs. Orchard Park:
“I looked at those guys and they were playing with the heart of a champion. One thing they did they took it to them. That team they played was bigger than them. Obviously, if you laid them across the table, you would’ve thought it was David vs. Goliath. But New Rochelle has always had those kind of teams with our speed and the way we ran to the ball, we tackled and hit people. After a while it takes its toll. I think that’s what happened when they played Orchard Park.”
“I was sitting in the room, on phone with brother, on the phone with my mom. I was yelling, screaming. I’m glad I was by myself because I was really acting like a crazed fan.”
On talking with DiRienzo afterward:
“He thanked me for what I did. He didn’t want it to go forgotten because he knew where it came from. Any time I want to do something, it’s like pulling teeth with him. That’s why I went through coach Tassello so I could get it and I didn’t have to hear from ‘Coach D’ until afterward. ‘Coach D’ is just old school, cut from the cloth. If it was up to ‘Coach D,’ those guys would still be wearing the net jerseys from back in the day. I just wanted to keep the kids fresh, keep them up to date and show them that hard work pays off.”