The player they choose to handle that duty was Curtis Rice the senior LB who moved from starting LB to DE in order to bolster the line and lead Union to an eventual state championship last December.
The move from linebacker to defensive end may have cost Curtis a few point with the college recruiters but in the minds of the Union Yellow Jacket faithful, Curtis was the epitome of the TEAM FIRST attitude that has propelled the Jackets to 4 straight state title games.
Rice is a "tweener" player. His 6 foot 3 inch height makes him ideal for the defensive end and his long arms allow him to reach the quarterback and cause havoc in the backfield. Rice made the transition to defensive end a simple one. "In what we do defensively, we think that position is critical. He can contain, pass rush and make plays inside. He's fit the bill perfectly," Union coach Mike Anthony said. "I told Curtis when we moved him there that he didn't have to go. He said, 'Coach, I don't care. Whatever is best for the team is fine with me.' "
Curtis had a fantastic year for the Yellow Jackets and was awarded the Spartanburg Herald Journal Defensive Player of the Year for the upstate region. He finished the year with 99 solo tackles in 15 games to go along with 14 sacks and 33 quarterback pressures. He led Union in all those categories and also recorded an amazing 32 tackles for loss. The North South All Star also was a Region 3 Class 3A All Region Performer and a member of the SC Pigskin Prep All State Team.
Coach Anthony of the Union Yellow Jackets called Curtis the difference maker in propelling the team back to Columbia. Without Curtis we make a playoff run, with Curtis we had the chance to make it to Columbia and win a state title. Anthony also stated "He was so unselfish by moving him. Had we left him at linebacker, I bet $1 million he would have already been offered by a Division I college."
Curtis' talent lay on both sides on the ball including the special teams.
On offense he carried the ball 29 times this year and amazingly 6 of those 29 carries resulted in Yellow Jacket TDs. He averaged an equally amazing 7.8 yard per carry and was a key blocker in the Yellow Jacket attack. Curtis also caught 8 passes for 188 with a long of 58 yards showing his amazing athletic ability. And when needed; Rice also put the ball in the air on 3 different occasions and each was completed for another 118 yards. All told, Curtis had over 550 yards total offense.
On special teams, Curtis teed the ball up and handled the kick off duties for Union averaging 47 yard per kick off and placing 6 balls into the end zone. Handling kicking duties along with his offense and defensive prowess show that Curtis is an exceptional athlete and perhaps the MVP of the 2002 State Champions.
But even though Curtis is a great football player, he may be an even better young man. A great student who will be a full qualifier, Curtis has shown leadership on the field and in the locker room. His coaches rave about his TEAM FIRST attitude and his willingness to help his teammates. He is one of the most coach able players to ever attend Union according to his coaches. Eddie Adams, a long time supporter of Union sports and webmaster for the school athletic website, said during the season that Curtis "was a pleasure to be around and the kind of young man that you would want your children to grow up and be like. He is a fantastic role model for the young kids here in Union and always remembers that in everything he does on and off the field."
As the 2002 recruiting season goes into its final few weeks, we wish Curtis the very best and hope that he receives the chance to play at the Division 1 level next season. We are confident that wherever Curtis goes, he will be an asset to his school and a welcome addition to the football team.
Additional Stats on Curtis Rice
LB 6'2 205
4.54/ 40, 250 Bench, 300 Squat, 220 Clean, 33 inch Vertical Leap,
4-year letterman/ 2- year starter
2002- Pre Season ALL AREA (Spartanburg Herald-Journal)
Named to "Top Seniors" Prospect List for 2002 Season. (SCPigskin Prep)
Jr. Stats- Defense-62 tackles, 9 TFL, 4 sacks, 11 pressures, 3 interceptions (1 for TD), 2 caused fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries Offense- 12 rushes for 57 yards, 2 TD- 8 catches for 50 yards, 2 TD
As a Junior- All Region 2001
Named to "Top Juniors" Prospect List for 2001 Season. (SCPrep Football)
As a Sophomore- Curtis played special teams and played quality, meaningful minutes at DE & RB for the 2000 State Title Team.
As a Freshman Curtis kicked off and played special teams for the 1999 Varsity State Title Team. He also got some late duty at DE and RB.
He was a star on Thursday nights with the JV as a RB and LB.
Other Sports-On the basketball court Curtis has been a starter since his Freshman season. He was named All-Region as a sophomore for our Region Champion team that went 25-6 and finished as State Runner-Up in 2001. He was All-Region and All-Area for this year's 2002 team that went 27-4 and again finished as State Runner-Up in March.
Additional information for this story courtesy of:
Eddie Adams – unionyellowjackets.com
Jason Gilmer – goupstate.com and the Spartanburg Herald Journal
Thanks to these great guys for all they do for high school sports here in the Palmetto State.