Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

Sports

August 22, 2013

GC Football Tour: Rice players bond together with slogan, purpose

Rice —  It came from a Navy Seals promise, the kind that molds and shapes men for moments of greatness, for courage and passion and — for above all else — driving themselves when there is nothing left to drive.

The simple letters NDCQ stand for that and so much more.

Just ask the players on the Rice football field, where the team has embraced NDCQ and each other in ways no one could have imagined.

Every kid knows NDCQ means “Not Dead, Can’t Quit.’’

They will carry those letters with them along with the football into the season, grasping both as tightly as they grasp their playoff dreams.

“I love it,’’ said senior Noah McBryde, a receiver who also plays linebacker. “If you’re not dead there’s no reason to quit, no excuses. When the fourth quarter comes around, you can’t quit. Nobody is quitting on this team. The whole team has bought into it. This is a different season for Rice. This is a different team.’’

Coach Jerry Baldridge loves to hear that kind fire out of his kids, but it’s not just McBryde, and not just the seniors. It’s everybody up and down the line, everybody in and out of the huddle.

Baldridge was reading when he ran across the motto for the Navy Seals. He googled the origin, read about NDCQ even more and made it a part of life for his kids. He didn’t just like it. He embraced it and then stamped it on his program. The letters are on shirts and they are part of this team.

“I stole it from the Navy Seals,’’ said Baldridge, who took over the Rice program last year. “I figured if it was good enough for them it was good enough for us. We came in here last year and everything was new. There were times we were grinding our teeth. It’s been so different this year.’’

Baldridge is a motivator, a man who can find ways to get the most out of what he has, but even he is taken back by what has happened at Rice, where the kids are closer and more confident than ever with a belief in each other and a bond that many of the players say will last a lifetime.

“I know the bond will be there,’’ junior fullback and linebacker Chris Atchley said. “The bond we have on this team this year will be with us for all of our lives.’’

You can see it — and feel it — on the field.

Everyone not only goes hard, but they push each other. In the end-of-the-day wind sprints, the fastest kids on the team finish first, but instead of stopping and resting, those kids go back and run the final sprints with the bigger kids on the team.

“The faster kids come back and run and they say ‘Let’s go,’ and everybody helps push each other,’’ said Justin Smith, a senior and two-way starter on the line. “That’s the way it is this year, everybody helping everybody.’’

It’s contagious.

“I’ve been coaching 28 years,’’ said Baldridge who is in his second year at Rice and his 10th as a head coach. “I don’t believe I’ve ever had one like this. This is by no means the most talented team I’ve coached. But they are the best team when it comes to this. They care about each other. They believe in each other. It’s hard to put into words. We have athletes. We don’t have outstanding athletes, but this year everybody cares so much about each other.

“This group has that family atmosphere. It ranks right up there with any of them over 28 years. We go to practice and there is no griping, no complaining. They don’t get mad. There’s no finger pointing. If anybody deserves the opportunity to be in the playoffs, it’s this group.’’

That’s the plan — the playoffs and more.

It wasn’t this way a year ago when Baldridge took over. There’s always a big learning curve from Year 1 to Year 2, but the Rice kids say it’s a 180 from a year ago when there was finger pointing and lots of negative talking on the field. This is no sequel. This is a brand new Rice.

“It’s a new Rice, Texas,’’ McBryde said. “It wasn’t like this before. Everybody was blaming everybody else. If a guy didn’t gain the yards it was because someone else didn’t do what they were supposed to do. It’s not like that now. We are all in this together. This year it’s not I’m going to get it, it’s we’re going to get it.’’

Smith sees the difference every day.

“It’s night and day from last year,’’ Smith said. “You can see it in everything we do, even the way we walk off the field. You can see it. We ant to be here doing everything we can.’’

Baldridge knows why.

“They care more about the team than they do themselves,’’ he said. “They have worked hard since November of last season.’’

The seniors can remember an 0-10 season as freshman that left a lot of bitterness. They went 4-6 as sophomores and then — after moving up from Class 1A to Class 2A last season, the Bulldogs went 4-6 in the bigger class.

Now they want to leave a legacy — something they will never forget. They want to win in the playoffs.

They have never won a playoff game at Rice.

“I’ve got a real good feeling about the playoffs,’’ McBryde said. “We’re not just going to get to the playoffs, but we’re going to make history. We’re going to win the first playoff game in Rice’s history.’’

They have to replace tailback Ragan Henderson, who rushed for 2,109 and 26 touchdowns, and the plan is to find enough different backs to get the job done. They bring back eight starters on offense and six on defense, including fullback/linebacker Raven Huffman, a junior who was Rice’s leading tackler last season until he suffered a hand injury.

“At the end of the season last year everyone just had that look on their face,’’ Huffman said. “After the season we had, we just kind of looked at each other. We had that disappointed look. We talked about it.’’

Then he handed over the credit to the coaches.

“The coaches brought a new bond, a new challenge to us,’’ he said. “It opened our eyes to a different level to our game.’’

Atchley, who gained 623 yards on 113 carries and led the team in tackles with 83 last year, said you can’t even recognize Rice this season. And he wasn’t talking about the new helmets with the new logo.

“This is something Rice has never had,’’ he said of the chemistry and closeness of the team. “The attitude, the bond, the commitment. It’s not just winning. There’s so much family in that locker room. We have been so close we are a family for a lifetime.’’

They’re hoping it all translates into more wins, and a ride in the playoffs — and a little history along the way. All that and more with a mantra they have made their own — NDCQ.

“I hope they shock a lot of people,’’ Baldridge said.

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