I’m in Omaha for the next few days, so Nancy Haggerty stepped in and covered Ray Rice Day on Saturday at New Rochelle. Here’s her story:
NEW ROCHELLE — Yeah, Ray Rice acknowledged, Joe Fosina Field, the place where he’d gotten plenty of scrapes when he was a kid and it was natural grass, wasn’t exactly the Superdome.
To start with, there weren’t 70,000 fans on hand.
But as the Baltimore Ravens’ standout, a former New Rochelle High star, glanced at some of the 400-plus kids doing drills as part of Ray Rice Day at his fourth annual camp Saturday, he declared, “This is my Super Bowl — coming back to New Rochelle, New York.”
There’s a reason, after all, that the 914 area code is tattooed on one of Rice’s biceps. Coming back’s part of what Rice, who helped the Ravens beat San Francisco in the Super Bowl at the Superdome, does.
Rice flitted from group to group, offering instruction and even accepting a challenge from two kids to race. Umm, no surprise who won.
Running back or not, he also hurled a couple of 50-yarders to campers.
“He could throw really good,” said Andrea Settembrini, 9, of Mahopac.
Maybe it wasn’t quite Doug Flutie-to-Gerard Phelan, but chances are New Rochelle’s Ward Elementary School will be all abuzz Monday about one pass. Rice promised 10-year-old fourth-grader Jaheim Gregory $100 if he caught it.
Seconds later, the youngster had the ball and a wide grin.
Gregory has snagged other passes on his youth team, but nothing “that big,” he reported.
Along with passes, Rice threw words of advice to the kids, stressing his NFL career wouldn’t have happened without his work in school.
“Go to school, be respectful, and you can live your dream,” New Rochelle High and camp coach Lou DiRienzo said, summing up Rice’s message. “That’s a home run if the kids get it.”
New Rochelle grad Courtney Greene, who played three years as a Jacksonville Jaguars safety, said the camp gives kids the “belief anyone can hope.”
Jackson Warren, 13, of Yorktown seemed inspired. He said he once played youth football but, unpopular because he’s neither tall nor fast, he stopped.
“Maybe out of this, I see myself playing next year,” he said.
Giovanni Dascoli, 9, of Minisink Valley is currently sidelined. An off-road-vehicle crash in May left him with a concussion, internal bleeding and a broken leg, requiring an airlift to Westchester Medical Center and three surgeries.
His cast was nearly filled with signatures. But he saved space for Rice’s name.
His mother didn’t seem to mind standing in the sun, waiting for Rice to sign. This was Michelle (Filipelli) Dascoli’s home turf.
In fact, the 43-year-old was once the second female player in New Rochelle’s youth football league.
Smiling, Dascoli said she hoped the multiple girls at Rice’s camp believed, “You can do everything the boys can but do it better.”
Some kids — including Nyjae Spady, 14, a friend and classmate of Rice’s sister, Duraisa, and (sorry, Ray) a Giants fan — said they were happy playing playground or backyard football.
Others spoke of bigger stages.
Walter Quick Jr. of North Bergen, N.J., who displayed quick feet, said, “My dad didn’t make it in the NFL. I want to make the NFL for him.”
Asked about his speed, the 10-year-old gave an answer the 26-year-old Rice couldn’t have at his age.
“I have highlights on YouTube,” he said.
Now, here’s Rick Carpiniello’s column on how Rice is in line to assume a key leadership role with the defending Super Bowl champs with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed now gone:
NEW ROCHELLE — Ray Rice shimmied amid a pile of yellow-shirted mini future football players.
“Any dogs in the house?” he hollered gruffly.
“Woof, woof, woof,” the little guys replied.
“Any dogs in the house?”
“Woof, woof, woof.”
Rice was having more fun than the kids Saturday at his enormous annual giveback, Ray Rice Day, at Joe Fosina Stadium.
The “dogs in the house” chant was made famous by Ray Lewis, the great linebacker and Baltimore Ravens team leader who retired after the Super Bowl victory last winter. Ed Reed is also gone, to the Houston Texans.
Rice, 26, the three-time Pro Bowl running back out of New Rochelle, has said he wants to be one of the new team leaders in his sixth NFL season.
“A leadership role is something I definitely don’t mind taking upon now, because I was mentored by one of the greatest leaders probably ever to play the game in Ray Lewis,” Rice said.
“A lot of his leading was by example, and when he spoke, everybody listened because they had that respect for him. So I think being a leader comes with how much respect people have for you. These guys look at the way I work and they understand that my actions are going to show on the field.”
If there is one thing for which Rice is best known, it is his will to work. That was his message to the children Saturday, but it’s the story of his life, and it is why those who know him best think he’s a natural leader.
“His personality just attracts him to that,” said free-agent safety Courtney Greene, who played with Rice at New Rochelle and Rutgers. “He just shows by example. He’s not very vocal. It’s going to be a bit of a change for him. He’s usually just a guy who works hard, and being as talented as he is, that’s the way it usually is. I think he’s going to be fine in that role. He’s earned his keep in the league, and people pay attention to him and look for his advice.
“But when Ray wanted something to be heard, he would say it and everybody would listen and take heed.”
Geoff McDermott, who played pro basketball in Spain this past season, was Rice’s quarterback at New Rochelle (they went to two state championship games together, winning one) and his basketball teammate.
“I was the quarterback, but he was definitely setting the tone in practice, getting everybody ready, going hard,” McDermott said. “That’s what he does. He talks a lot. It’s good. He’s the best player on the field and … if you’re not working hard, he lets you know that, too.
“He’s a great guy. He walks in the room, makes everybody smile. That’s how he is as a leader.”
Plenty of people were smiling Saturday, including Glen Lee, who also played with Rice at New Rochelle and Rutgers (and who, at 26, stays in shape hoping for an NFL call). Lee said leadership became a way of life under coach Lou DiRienzo.
“It started from a young age, with Coach D in that locker room, as far as being leaders and as far as taking the young guys under our wing and showing them the right way,” he said. “Even outside of football, as far as being a leader in the classroom, showing them how to be successful, was a big thing that we were a part of growing up. So it is something that was just embedded in (Rice), and in us. So for him to take that role out on that field is nothing unexpected.”
Devin McCourty of Nyack — a co-captain for the New England Patriots who attended Ray Rice Day with his twin brother, Jason, of the Tennessee Titans; they were Rutgers teammates of Rice, too —agreed.
“When a guy comes on and wins a starting position as a true freshman, I think that speaks a lot,” he said. “He assumed that leadership role early in his college career and in the NFL. I’m sure now, this far in his career, he wants to be a leader. With leaders, it’s all about being yourself. People want to follow you for a reason, so that’s all you’ve got to do, continue to be who you are, and people will continue to follow you.”
Woof, woof, woof.