Thurmond Remembers Dennis Byrd

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Dennis Byrd making headlines on a Saturday was a way of life for Chris Thurmond in the mid 1980's when Byrd was a defensive linemen at Tulsa where Thurmond was coaching the defensive backs. 

However, the headline this past Saturday was one Thurmond, the Owls' Defensive Coordinator,  and countless others would prefer had never been written.

Byrd, 50, was killed in an accident on a highway not far from his home in near Tulsa, Oklahoma on Saturday, bring a sudden end to a life that had inspired many,  first with his exploits on the field and perhaps even more so in his recovery from a spinal injury that cut short his NFL career.

Byrd had resolutely refused to believe the dire prognosis from medical doctors after a collision with a teammate on a pass rush against the Chiefs on November 29, 1992 caused severe damage to his neck and spinal cord.  He defined the odds to gain a level of mobility that allowed him to return the following  season to serve as an honorary captain in the Jets home opener.

He returned to Oklahoma to coach at the high school level and also worked for a time as an analyst for CBS television. A devout Christian, he was active on the speaking circuit while also devoting himself to his wife and family.

"Football was a huge deal to Dennis and he played with so much passion," Thurmond recalled. "One day in practice he missed a tackle, punched the ground and broke his hand.  That was the kind of passion that he brought to the field every day. But he always had things in perspective--his family, his spiritual life and all the other things that make you a well-rounded person. "

Thurmond may not have coached Byrd at Tulsa, but as is often the case, the shared experience of being on the same team creates a bond that only grows stronger over the years.

"When I was coaching at Oklahoma, I'd run into him at various coaching functions or other events and it was always a special time when we did have a chance to visit," Thurmond noted. "After guys get done playing, when you meet it's not so much that you rehash all the things that happened. You become friends and you enjoy hearing about family and what they are doing now.

"It wasn't like we talked that often or kept up with each other regularly, but I have incredible memories of him and remember some great games he had against Oklahoma State and Arkansas.  Every game he was a difference maker," he added.

In the days since the news first broke, Thurmond has had occasion to hear from former players from those Tulsa teams of the mid 1980's, either to give him updates on arrangements or share a memory.  

"Sometimes we over-emphasize the loss of someone because they are a professional athlete or a celebrity of some kind.  But this is not that we lost a former great football player, the loss is that we  lost the type of person that he was because he influenced so many," Thurmond said.

"There have been so many guys who have called the last couple of days to talk about him. He was unbelievably impactful."

Getting to Know: beIN Sports

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beIN College Football Logo small.png

Saturday's game with UTSA will also mark the Owls broadcast debut on one of Conference USA's new broadcast partners, beIN Sports.

So just who is beIN Sports and what are the options available to watch Saturday's game?  Glad you asked.

beIN was launched in 2012 and is the fastest growing global sports network in the U.S. and is offered on 9 of the largest 10 cable/satellite TV providers in the U.S., as well as other regional and local systems across the country.   You can find it on DirecTV (620), Dish (392), Verizon FiOS/Frontier (596) as wella s AT&T U-verse (662/1662).


In addition, with beIN Sports Connect and the beIN Connect app, you will also have full access to the stream of Saturday's game on your tablet or mobile device.

A cornerstone of beIN SPORTS has been its unrivaled live soccer coverage which includes live matches from Spain's LaLiga, Italy's Serie AFrance's Ligue 1England's Sky Bet Championshipthe United States' NASL, and CONMEBOL/CONCACAF/CAF World Cup Qualifiers, as well as news and in-depth analysis of top leagues from around the world.

This summer, beIN announced it was adding football to its fĂștbol lineup and joined the Conference USA lineup in time for the first kickoffs of 2016.   They will also carry a slate of men's and women's basketball and baseball.

Matt Martucci will handle the play-by-play and be joined in the booth by former Miami All-American center Brett Romberg, while Jordan Daigle will report from the sidelines.  The threesome has been in town since Thursday preparing for the game.

Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.  Saturday night.  If you can't join us in person, we hope you enjoy this first offering from our newest broadcast partner. 

Countdown Clock Strikes Zero as Owls Face WKU

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 277 days ago, Luke Turner bade a tearful goodbye to his college career in an emotional press conference less than an hour after Rice had closed out a frustrating 5-7 campaign with a 27-7 win over Charlotte.   

The video of Turner's gripping tribute to head coach David Bailiff quickly went viral and provided a level of national coverage that he and the Owls had generated with their successes over the previous three years.  

Over that stretch, many of these same Owls had clawed their way to three consecutive bowl games, winning two, and capturing Rice's first outright conference championship in 56 years.  They set standards for most wins in two (18) and three years (25).

But that trend upward took a detour south in 2015.

The win over the 49ers on that gloomy November Saturday allowed Rice's winningest group of seniors to walk out of Rice Stadium with one more victory and tie the most over four years (30), but their teammates left that night with a gnawing sense of what might have been.  Close road losses at UTEP and UTSA over the final month were filled with potential momentum swings that never materialized and the Owls were forced to spend the bowl season in front of their TVs rather than practicing and playing another game.

It set the tone for an off season filled with recuperation and rededication.  A determined group of Owls slashed through winter workouts, spring practice and summer conditioning with a determined demeanor focused on not allowing a season's misstep to define or devalue the successes that had preceded it.

In August, a much-anticipated upgrade to facilities became a reality when the $33 million Brian Patterson Sports Performance Center opened its doors at the start of fall training camp, symbolically enhancing the overall upward trend of the program.

A spirited 25 days of practice followed, each day drawing the Owls closer to the first chance to reclaim the momentum that had characterized so much of their careers on South Main.

And now it's Game Day, or more accurately Game Night as the Owls will take the field against the defending C-USA Champions in WKU, which defeated the Owls 49-10 at Rice Stadium last year.  CBS Sports Network will carry the game nationally, the first of three consecutive national television appearances for the Owls.

After a road game next weekend at Army, the Owls will take the final wraps off their new home with the first home game of the year as they host a formerly familiar face in the Baylor Bears, Rice's traditional season-closing opponent for so many Southwest Conference campaigns.  

The waiting is over, the payoff is here, the season begins.  It's time to keep score and add up statistics.

Twelve dates on the calendar, twelve chances to step on the field and define what it means to be a Rice Owl solely determined and defined by the current group of players. Twelve chances create additional playing opportunities beyond the regular season.

After 277 days, it's time for a new season to take the stage.  


Countdown to Kickoff '16 Daily Report August 28

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7:15-8:45 p.m. 

Shoulder pads and helmets

Days to Kickoff: 4

In Brief: Prime time practice on Sunday as the Owls went through their paces under the lights at roughly the same time they'll be kicking off on Thursday night in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Quote of the Day:

Wide Receiver Nate German: "Spring practice was definitely a long period (German was recovering from an injury at the end of the 2015 season). It was about getting mental reps, but in some ways I think it helped me because I was able to step back and really focus on getting healthy for this season. It turned out to be pretty beneficial for me. I've been trying to push myself in camp.  I missed the spring and some of the summer so I wasn't able to work out with the team. I felt like I was a little out of shape coming into camp. I wanted to make sure I didn't push myself too much, but I feel now like I'm getting my legs back. It feels good and I'm excited. I'm sure a lot of other players have said the same thing, but I think we had a really good camp. I truly mean that. A lot of players stepped up that needed to and the returning players have shown a lot of leadership and showed how it needs to be done. We stayed healthy for the most part.  Now it's just time to translate that (the camp performance) into a game."

 Up Next:  Game week routine ramps up to full speed on Monday with the first weekly press luncheon and the first David Bailiff Radio Show on Monday night.    

Countdown to Kickoff '16 Daily Report August 27

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8:00-10:00 a.m. 

Full Pads

Days to Kickoff: 5

In Brief: Owls were up early and on the field at 8 a.m. on Saturday in an effort by head coach David Bailiff to get in a quality work day and avoid the heat and humidity of later in the day and also to give the team an extended recovery period before they return to practice on Sunday night when they will drill under the lights in preparation for Thursday's 7 p.m. kickoff at Western Kentucky.  

School Ties: With the start of high school football this weekend, a new crop of freshmen experienced their first weekend of being interested alumni of their former teams.  It's likely none of them anticipated Friday's opener more than wide receiver Kaylen Granson, who helped lead Austin Westlake to a state title last December. After Friday's workout at Rice Stadium, Granson was quick to jump on a phone app to follow the action as Westlake defeated Katy 32-29.  "I had my little Chap App on and was cheering the entire time," Granson said. "It's definitely a little weird to be listening to your high school team playing someone and you're not there. You kind of re-imagine your last season, it really hits you with a feeling of nostalgia.  When you are playing the best team in the state, I think (Westlake) came out with something to prove and say 'we're another playoff team, we may have graduated a lot of people, but we are here to make our mark' and they sure as heck did.  I was talking Austin (Williams) and giving it to him because Lake Travis (where Williams had played) is our old-time rival and they lost to Katy but we beat them. We're not too serious about it, but we have a lot of fun with it.

 Quotes of the Day:

Free Safety J.T. Ibe: "I feel good and think I've had a good camp.  As a team we look even better.  I didn't play in the spring, so this is the first time I've really had a chance to see a lot of what we were doing (from the field). Our defense is flying to the ball. (sitting out in the spring) I don't; think practice every becomes less of a grind, but you definitely learn to appreciate (practice) more. Football is a lot more than the physical part and being away I was still able to keep up mentally. I think the entire team has grown so much going through a spring and through this camp. Coach (Thurmond) talks about trust. Playing defense--and offense too--is all about trusting your brother next to you that he will be in his gap. When you trust your teammates and understanding the defense, that's the whole point.  You can play so much faster when you understand the system. (on game week and any change in the locker room) For me personally, I come out to every practice like it's game day. I'm going to go hard and play fast and I think the rest of our team does that too.   "

 Up Next:  The team will get an extended break for recovery on Saturday and during the day on Sunday before returning to the field on Sunday night in order to get a practice under the lights, starting 7 p.m. in order to mirror kickoff time on Thursday.   

Countdown to Kickoff Daily Report August 26

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Mock Game

6:30-8 p.m. Rice Stadium

Days to Kickoff 5

 In Brief:  The Owls held their mock game tonight, where they went over every possible scenario.

 Quote of the Day:

Kicker/Punter Jack Fox: "I feel good. I'm just trying to stay positive and keep my head up. I'm trying to keep my head up during the season and power through some of those punts. Last year, just having some field goals and kickoffs, that helped me get used to kick in a stadium. It was nice to get in front of a stadium and in front of people. I didn't always do great either so that helped me moving forward and to work through adversity. James (Farrimond) took me under his wing and showed me how to do it the right way.

 Quote of the Day II:

Head Coach David Bailiff: "(The mock game) is (important). We script the entire thing out. Every special team goes through it. Every punt after a safety (and) kick after a safety; we make sure we come off the sidelines the right way. We need to eliminate any of the errors (like) procedure (and) some of the silly things that can get you caught. You have to continue to improve every day in the fundamentals and techniques of the game. We want to keep improving as a team, but we've had a tremendous camp. These young men have showed up every day working hard to get back to our winning ways and to a bowl game."

 Up Next:  The Owls will be on the practice field at 8 a.m. tomorrow morning.

Countdown to Kickoff '16 Daily Report August 24

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4:00-6:00 p.m. 

Days to Kickoff: 7

In Brief: Practice started under cover as lightning in the area kept them off the field for the first 45 minutes on the schedule before they were cleared to step on the grass practice field.  Once cleared they were able to complete the bulk of the day's work.   

 Quotes of the Day:

Defensive End Brian Womac: "I think we had a really great camp. Everyone was really focused and it was there from the beginning of camp. We have high hopes for this year and holding ourselves to a higher expectation. That's something that coach (Ryan) Tedford really instilled in us during the summer. I'm holding myself to that expectation and we are holding each other to those expectations. It's been all about unit goals rather than personal goals heading into this year. The D-Line did some good work over the summer in the weight room and on the field with Coach Tedford. I think we accomplished everything we wanted to before the season. We had a lot of young interior linemen last year and event the guys at end were pretty young. Apparently last year at one time we were playing more freshmen than anyone in the country. All those freshmen are a year older and they are that much better.  The incoming freshmen give us added depth and our numbers are pretty good on defense. I really feel like we've come together nicely in came and we're really playing well in camp and I'm curious to see how we will play together when we play Western Kentucky. I have high hopes."

 Up Next:  The Owls will be on the practice field from 4-5:30 on Thursday, while the sounds of an actual football game will be coming from the turf at Rice Stadium next door as Rosehill Christian School hosts Northside Christian.  

Countdown to Kickoff '16 Daily Report August 23

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Helmets, shorts and Shoulder pads

4:00-6:00 p.m. 

Days to Kickoff: 8

In Brief: The Owls returned to the practice field on Tuesday after a film day on Monday as the team began classes. Thanks to a break in the rain pattern, they were also able to return to the grass practice field for the first time in over a week. With the countdown to the season-opener at Western Kentucky moving to single digits, the Owls saw their first work against the scout teams who ran WKU's offensive and defensive schemes.  If any of the players who were assigned to the scout team had any questions about their future prospects, those were quickly answered at the end of practice when senior Zach Wright, who spent two years portraying opposing receivers, joined with 2015 returning captain Alex Lyons as being selected by their teammates as captains for the 2016 season.   Two additional captains will be named at the conclusion of the season.  

 Quotes of the Day:

Wide Receiver Zach Wright: "I usually have a pretty good answer for most things, but this (being named captain) really took me back. I think the world of those guys., they're my best friends, my brothers, I've grown up with a lot of them and for them to vote me as a captain, it's hard to put words out there that explain that feeling. It's probably the greatest honor I've had. I'd like to think I've had some pretty cool stuff happen to me, but this tops it all. Honestly, I look up to those guys, they push me every day. Every one of them works so hard. They may not know it, but they are leading me every single day because I have to try to push harder than they do. I really excited and extremely honored. It's definitely been a journey (from being a walk-on in a metal locker at the back of the old locker room). There's been some ups and downs. I started out as a freshman walk-on on scout for a second year. I can tell them I was on the scout team for two years, Tyler Stehling was a scout for two years, it's all about your mindset. Yes, you have to put on a powder blue jersey, but when I did, I had to gup up against Phillip Gaines and Bryce Callahan--two NFL cornerbacks every single day when I was a young guy and that is what got me better.  The pushed me to get to the point where I have gotten now. It helps me when I tell these young guys it's all about your mindset and if I can do it, Tyler can do it, Darik Dillard can do it, then you can do it.  Just embrace the chance to come out each day and go against the best competition."

 Up Next:  Back on the field from 4-5:30 on Wednesday and following practice, the coaching staff will make the quick change and head downtown to St. Arnold Brewery for the annual Football Fall Reception from 7-9 p.m.  

Training Camp '16 Daily Report August 20

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Pactice #18

Full pads

7:30-10:00 a.m. 

Days to Kickoff: 12

Special Guest: Sam Khan of

Current Owls Birthdays: None

Former Owls Birthdays: Former DB and WR in addition to SWC indoor high jump champion Nigel Codrington (1987-90).   

 In Brief: Final morning practice of Training Camp '16 kicked off a busy day at Rice Stadium for the Owls. Two hours of solid work on the field followed by a new closing ceremonies event for O-Week.  Tonight, the Owls will host their annual International Students Clinic.  

 Quotes of the Day:

Defensive Lineman Blain Padgett: "Last year, I had just come from (playing) linebacker in high school so I wasn't able to enjoy the position (defensive end). I was thinking too much. I was very mechanical. I had the strength, I had the size, I had the mental preparation, but I didn't have the technique. This year, I've been working really hard. Just looking back at my pass rush from then to now, I think I accomplished the goals I had set. I still have a lot of work to do, but I see a lot of results that I am happy about. Last year, I was very disappointed in myself. But after the first couple weeks of spring (practice), I started seeing results immediately and that's when I knew Coach (Frank) Okam is the real deal and he is going to get me right. I can't wait to see what I've got to come for the next three years. When he (Okam) comes into the meeting room, every single one of us gets quiet and says 'yes sir'. We know whenever he tells us something, it's right. We don't question it. We know if we put that technique and that effort on the field, then we are going to be successful."

 Up Next:  Off day as the Owls prep for the start of classes on Monday, which also signals the start of the practice routine now through the end of the season 

Training Camp '16 Daily Report August 19

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Practice #17

Helmets, shoulder pads & shorts

9:30-11:00 a.m. 

Days to Kickoff: 13

Current Owls Birthdays: None

Former Owls Birthdays: Gerald Simila, who lettered as a rover in 1970 and Victor Brooks, who lettered from 2006-08 and played in two bowls at defensive end.   

 In Brief: Some days, Houston lives up to its legend in terms of humidity and today was one of them. A week's worth of rains drove them to the turf at Rice Stadium on day when they were also without the coverage of an earlier start time.  Special shout out to Dan Gotera from KHOU-TV in Houston for dropping by to grab interviews with Coach Bailiff and Darik Dillard, the later for a feature on their Sunday night sports show about Dillard's internships the past two summers and his dream of his ultimate career.  

 Quotes of the Day:

Wide Receiver James Mayden: "(on the changes he made in the offseason) It's definitely been about putting this team first. A lot of last year seemed to be more of about the individual, but this year I've been focusing on what the team needs instead of the stats. I put the stats aside and worked on being a better teammate first and getting the things done that they wanted me to do. It's definitely made all the difference. I watched a lot of film of myself and broke it down. I saw a lot of tendencies that I liked to do. I worked a lot with a trainer at home and they broke a lot of those things down and added some new tools to my game.  It's paying off and I'm making corners fall left and right. Coach Lynch doesn't overdo the praise, because if he did, it wouldn't really help you. The constructive criticism is a great coaching point for us.  There's a lot of competition in the (receivers') room, but it's also full of positivity It's always great to see the receivers are building each other up. We're always happy to see each other succeed."  

 Up Next:  Busy day on Saturday kicks off with a final early morning practice, a second practice late in the afternoon and then after dinner, the latest installment of annual favorite event, the International Students Clinic.

Here are a few of the great video recaps that Brandon Martin from Rice Public Affairs has produced over the years:




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