Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Rice now the lead Cougar on defense

Tanner Rice of Clovis High is looking to keep the tradition of game-changing players alive with the Cougars (photo contributed).
Inside Daryle Lamonica Stadium nestled on the corner of Barstow and Fowler Avenues in Clovis is a football field where legendary Cougar names are remembered - and where linebacker Tanner Rice wants to keep this moving train of tradition going.

Lamonica is remembered here, as the former Oakland Raiders' quarterback carved up defenses while with CHS. Tyler Clutts wreaked havoc on this field as a defensive end before transitioning to fullback in the NFL. Zack Follett brought the rush and big plays for the Cougars, then eventually landed at Cal-Berkeley of the distinguished PAC-10 (before it became the PAC-12). Nate Palomino recently made some game-changing plays at linebacker before moving on to Cal Poly of the Football Championship Subdivision.

Rice, a Class of 2016 prospect, is using past Clovis High greats for his fuel to be the next best player in the CHS blue and gold.

"I want to be the next one who keeps that strong tradition of taking football to the next level alive," Rice said. "And it's proof to me that a Clovis boy is able to do exactly that."

So far, so good for Rice.

Rice (No. 57) chases down an Atwater player during Clovis High's 19-7 victory on Sept. 12 (photo contributed).

The 5-foot-11, 215-pound Rice leads the Cougar charge with 30 solo tackles this season, including four stops for a loss. He's gone past 10 tackles in two of three games in 2014, with 10 stops in the 48-30 loss to Paso Robles on Aug. 29 and 13 in the 40-27 loss to Lemoore on Sept. 5. Against Atwater on Sept. 12, Rice finished with seven tackles, five solo and got credit for half a sack in Clovis' 19-7 home win.

Built like a young Zach Thomas [former Miami Dolphins linebacker], Rice patrols the middle of the field for the Cougar defense and shows an instant reaction to where the football is going.

"I think one of my main strengths is my flow to the ball," Rice said. "I'll make my read as quick as possible and decide the best angle to take, so I can get to the football as fast as I can."

Because of Rice controlling his territory, opposing teams have rarely ran their plays up the middle of the field. He's crashed down on opening gaps and has interrupted blast or dive running plays that are going between the offensive tackles. Rice also hasn't been caught standing straight up when he tackles or muscles a player to the grass. He uses lower body leverage and his long arms to wrap up a ball carrier, then drop him to the ground.

Rice has the size and frame of Thomas, but he said he looks up to another NFL legend at linebacker.

"Even as a young kid I really looked up to Ray Lewis [former Baltimore Raven]," Rice said. "I realized he was a great player, but I also loved how intense he was and how he really led his team."

Rice looks back at one highlight play that looked similar to what Lewis did during his illustrious 17-year career.

"Paso Robles was going for a two-point conversion. It was a running back dive up the middle and I shot through my gap to meet him in the backfield and deny them the extra points," Rice recalled.

Rice shows his game face (photo contributed).

While Rice is off to a fast start in the first three games for the Cougars, he's acknowledged that there's still room for improvement.

"I can improve on jumping routes to get interceptions and jamming the receivers as they cross my zone," Rice said.

Like many high school football players, Rice dreams of a college football career. The recruiting period has been quiet for him.

"Unfortunately, I have not received any offers as of yet. But I keep praying and checking the mailbox," Rice said.

Rice, who holds a 3.94 grade point average, said that he's enamored with one powerhouse in the PAC-12 and wouldn't mind suiting up for this program.

"I love Oregon," Rice said. "I have been to their campus and the atmosphere is great. I can tell that it would be a great place to not only to play football, but to go to school also."


What to like: Rice has a strong set of eyes and nose for the football. What I admire the most about Rice is he's a fundamental tackler, meaning he doesn't try to wrestle someone to the ground because he stays low, he keeps his head up, places his shoulder underneath a ball carrier's hip, then wraps his arms around to make the stop. He's an intelligent defender who knows where the ball is going and can make quick reads. Lastly, he doesn't back down from making a crucial stop, and that's what you want out of a middle linebacker.

What to build on: I need to see how he does in pass coverage, especially if he can single cover wide receivers or tight ends. His speed can also improve. I'll also need to see his ability to go sideline-to-sideline, particularly against sweep or swing passes because that's another important trait for inside linebackers.

Overall: Rice is a Tasmanian devil in Fresno County and plays like a feisty defender. He's capable of continuing the Cougars' tradition of standout defenders. The scary part for opponents is that Rice is still growing into his linebacker role. Once he improves as a cover linebacker and pass rusher, he'll be the complete package and emerge as the next most highly-sought Cougar.

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