Three years ago, Nate Richards was caught up in the hype and ceremonies that have become common place at countless high schools on the first Wednesday in February.
He joined a number of his Keller High School teammates in celebrating the culmination of countless hours of work in the classroom, the weight room and the practice field by signing a National Letter of Intent to accept a college scholarship to play football at Central Arkansas University.
Three years later, Richards name will again be one of those announced as signing a NLI to play college football at a Signing Day press conference, but with far less fanfare.
Coming off a season when he earned Junior College All American honors at Trinity Valley Community College, Richards signed his second NLI in December at home in front of his parents, confirming his decision to become a Rice Owl.
"It's not quite the same as the last time," Richards said recently. "That morning, we signed the letters of intent in the morning and faxed them into our schools. Our coaches were pretty good about making a big day out of it, so we did a public signing at the school. It was fun to be with everyone and be excited for all of them.
"This time it was just me and my parents at home when I signed in December. It was my Dad's job to figure out the fax machine, but he couldn't get it to work. We had to run to the Fed Ex store and get it sent off to the coaches at Rice," he laughed.
Richards, who plans to go to on to law school and study Constitutional Law, had attended Rice's Junior Day in 2008 in hopes of pursuing his athletic and academic dreams on South Main from the start.
"It didn't work for me then. The coaches said they had filled their spots for offensive linemen. I wound up signing with Central Arkansas. I redshirted my first year, but by 2010 I felt it really wasn't working out for me. I called my high school coach and he did some checking around and set me up to go to Trinity Valley, since they needed a center," he added.
Even as his season at Trinity Valley progressed, Richards was back on the recruiting trail, and this time, Richards and Rice proved to be a perfect fit.
The Owls were in need of a center, having lost the two players (Keshawn Carrington and Eric Ball) who had handled all of the snaps over the last three years. Richards, who had grown to be 6-4 and 305 pounds, and was armed with an equally impressive academic resume, was not limited in his choices the way many JC players can be, and he knew what a Rice degree would mean for his postgraduate plans.
"I knew I wanted to go to an FBS school, so I knew it was important to not let my academics slide. I only had one more chance to make this happen," he stated "They really prepared us well at Trinity to make the transition to a four-year school."
Three years ago, Richards' time following signing day was packed with the final days of high school, including a rare break from the rigors of spring practice.
This time around, Signing Day is more the official start of the final countdown to the start of spring drill for the Owls, when Richards will have a chance to stake a claim in the middle of a youthful group of offensive linemen. His schedule is filled with Winter Conditioning workouts and his first classes at Rice. No need for any additional ceremony to acknowledge what it already clear.
While the journey had a few more twists and turns than he envisioned in 2009, Richards finds himself exactly where he always he had hoped.
The Rice Owls women's basketball team (10-10, 4-3) plays at Houston (2-16, 1-5) on Saturday. Game time is set for 4 p.m. inside Hofheinz Pavilion.
The game will be televised by FSN. Fans across the country may watch on any of the channels listed below:
Network, Date,Time, Zone, (L,D.R)
FOX SPORTS ARIZONA (PLUS), Saturday - 01/28/2012, 3:00 PM, Mountain, Live
FOX SPORTS DETROIT (PLUS), Saturday - 01/28/2012, 5:00 PM, Eastern, Live
FOX SPORTS FLORIDA, Saturday - 01/28/2012, 5:00 PM, Eastern, Live
FOX SPORTS HOUSTON, Saturday - 01/28/2012, 4:00 PM, Central, Live
FOX SPORTS MIDWEST, Saturday - 01/28/2012, 4:00 PM, Central, Live
FOX SPORTS NORTH (PLUS), Saturday - 01/28/2012, 4:00 PM, Central, Live
FOX SPORTS OHIO (Non Reds), Saturday - 01/28/2012, 5:00 PM, Eastern, Live
FOX SPORTS SOUTHWEST, Saturday - 01/28/2012, 4:00 PM, Central, Live
FOX SPORTS WEST, Saturday - 01/28/2012, 2:00 PM, Pacific, Live,
FOX SPORTS WISCONSIN, Saturday - 01/28/2012, 4:00 PM, Central, Live
SPORTSOUTH (Non Bobcats), Saturday - 01/28/2012, 5:00 PM, Eastern, Live
COMCAST BAY AREA, Saturday - 01/28/2012, 2:00 PM, Pacific, Live
MSG PLUS, Saturday - 01/28/2012, 5:00 PM, Eastern, Live
ROOT SPORTS (Pittsburgh Region), Saturday - 01/28/2012,5:00 PM, Eastern, Live
ROOT SPORTS (Rocky Mountain Region), Sat. - 01/28/2012, 3:00 PM, Mountain, Live
FOX SPORTS HOUSTON (Houston Rockets), Sat. - 01/28/2012, 10:00 PM, CT, Repeat
SPORTSOUTH, Saturday - 01/28/2012, 11:00 PM, Eastern, Repeat
SPORTSOUTH, Monday - 01/30/2012, 1:00 PM, Eastern, Repeat
ROOT SPORTS (Northwest Region), Saturday - 01/28/2012, 6:00 PM, Pacific, Delay
When Robert Griffin III of Baylor was named the winner of the 2011 John Heisman Memorial Trophy, he became the 11th winner of the award to have faced Rice en route to winning the award named for the legendary coach who concluded his career by coaching the Owls from 1924-27.
Griffin led the Bears to a 56-31 win in September, becoming the first Heisman winner to face the Owls since Ricky Williams of Texas in 1998.
The Downtown Athletic Club of New York first presented a national player of the year award in 1935 to Chicago's Jay Berwanger. Heisman, who had became the club's athletic director in 1930, was instrumental in the creating the scope as well the voting procedures for the award. When he passed away the following October, the club unanimously voted to name their new award in his honor.
Two years later, the Owls had their first face-to-face matchup with an eventual winner of the Heisman, as Davey O'Brien led TCU to a 29-7 win at Rice Field.
A decade later, SMU's Doak Walker led the Mustangs to a 33-7 win over Rice at Rice Field and went on to capture the honor to as a junior. The Owls turned the tables on the reigning Heisman winner in his senior season (1949), as the Owls rallied for a 41-27 win in Dallas on their way to a Southwest Conference title and a #5 finish in the national polls.
Rice faced its first non-conference Heisman winner in 1954 when they dropped a tough 13-7 decision at Wisconsin. The Badgers where led by bruising fullback Alan "The Horse" Ameche and came into the game ranked third in the nation A national television audience saw Dicky Maegle and the Owls take a 7-6 lead into the game's final moments before Ameche punched in the game-winner in the final moments.
Maegle would become the first Owl to find his way into the award's final vote totals, finishing sixth with 258 points--including 36 first-place ballots, with remains the highest number of points and first-place votes for any Owl.
Rice would face the eventual Heisman winners in three consecutive seasons from 1957-59, posting a memorable win over one and providing a second with a signature moment in his Heisman campaign.
The Owls took on top-ranked Texas A&M in 1957, who were led by John David Crow who was destined to win the Heisman. However on this day, the stars on the field wore blue and gray, most notably King Hill whose interceptions foiled Aggie drives, whose punts pinned them deep when starting drives, and who PAT after the Owls lone touchdown proved to be the difference in the game as the Owls' prevailed 7-6. Hill's efforts that day earned him a place on numerous All American teams but did not generate any support for the Heisman.
One year later, Pete Dawkins and his Army teammates found themselves on their own 36, locked in a 7-7 tie with less than a minute left vs. the Owls at Rice Stadium on Homecoming. But Dawkins got behind the Owls defense and hauled in a 64-yard scoring pass to give the Cadets a 14-7 win and set the stage to win the Heisman.
LSU's Billy Cannon would had his Heisman moment later in the 1959 season, but he opened that year with a 26-3 win over LSU at Tiger Stadium. It would mark the last time the Owls would face a Heisman winner in his winning season for nearly two decades.
The Owls would return to the Heisman voting ranks in 1976 when quarterback Tommy Kramer, who earned consensus All America honors that year while becoming just the second quarterback to surpass 3,000 yards in a season, finished fifth in the voting, one spot ahead of Giff Nielsen of BYU.
Earl Campbell would break that Heisman-less streak in 1977, and Billy Sims of Oklahoma made it back-to-back encounters. It then took 11 years until Andre Ware of Houston would learn of his selection as the Heisman winner at Rice Stadium, as the Cougars and Owls had played for the Bayou Bucket on the day of the award's announcement.
The Rice Owls volleyball players share what they enjoy during the holidays.
College football's awards season is upon us.
Finalists for most of the individual position awards have been announced, and the blizzard of various honors teams will soon be upon us. (Conference USA will announce its all-conference football team early next week).
Earlier this week, Scott Solomon learned he was not one of the finalists for the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation's top defensive end, but that news was softened to somewhat by news released today.
Friday was reserved for the academic side of things, as C-USA announced its academic honorees for football. Solomon and Matt Nordstrom earned spots on the C-USA Football All-Academic team, making Rice one of two schools to place more than one member on the team.
In the midst of a career filled with passionate play and an assault on the school records for sacks and tackles for loss, it might have been easy to miss the fact that Scott Solomon's performance in the classroom (3.33 GPA while majoring in Political Science) was on a par with his efforts on the field.
At the end of a week when he'd rather have been contemplating potential opponents in a bowl game as opposed to beginning his off-season training in anticipation of invites to all-star games or the NFL Combine, Solomon was caught a bit off-guard with the news that he was being honored for his classroom exploits.
"It means a lot," he said when he first learned of the honor. "I just did everything I had to. I did what they asked me to do and kept on top of everything I needed to do while keeping my focus on football. "
Solomon's quiet, reserved approach to his academics lies in stark contrast to the unbridled passion that he brought to every moment of every football activity in his five seasons at Rice. Intensity evidenced in any photo taken of him in action, his eyes wide open, locked on the target of his pursuit.
That legendary intensity first made its mark as a true freshman in 2007 and led the way to productive seasons in 2008 and 2009. It was the basis for heightened anticipation for his senior season in 2010 and it was a challenge to re-focus into a productive, non-playing role that year after a broken bone in training camp put his senior season on hold for 12 months.
He came into this fall prepared in every sense of the word to be a leader of the Owls, both in practice and as a face of the program, which meant spending frequent time with the media.
There can be no greater measure of his growth over his five years as a Rice Owl than his reaction to an interview request.
In the fall of 2007, the freshman from San Antonio, who easily accepted the challenge of immediate playing time against Nichols State on a bizarre, storm-filled night, could be stopped dead in his tracks by the simple notification that a member of the media would like to ask him a question or two.
True fear has rarely been more genuinely exhibited than it was on that day when he was first stopped as he walked off the field after practice in order to be interviewed.
"I just remember that it was the number one thing I dreaded more than anything," Solomon recalled. "To be standing up there in front of media with the cameras and everything, I just absolutely hated it. But after a while, you come to realize it's something you have to do, and if you want to be a leader, that's part of what's expected."
Solomon's relative ease with the media requests this fall may have also been a byproduct of an even greater challenge this summer, delivering a toast at his brother Stuart's wedding this summer.
"On so many levels, that was much harder than any time I've had to be in front of the media," Solomon recalled with a laugh. "It was in front of a lot more people, friends and family. Of course, I also had to deal with Travis (Bradshaw) and (John) Gioffre making faces at me from the back of the room," he added.
Solomon's leadership was evidenced in more subtle ways.
He regularly was one of the last Owls to leave the practice field and could usually be found working with either the younger offensive linemen or the tight ends on their blocking mechanics. While an outsider might take note of such contributions as unique, Solomon saw it as routine.
"To be honest, as much as I helped them, they were helping me, so it went both ways," Solomon noted. "I think it is important to help those other guys. I felt like it was important and it was just part of being on the team. I never thought it was that I was doing anything special or unique," he added.
Both his post-practice extra work as well as his all-out assault during fall camp scrimmages might have been cause for concerns from others in terms of injuries, but Solomon never gave it a passing thought. "If you are always worrying about getting hurt, it makes you timid and you'll never get any better," he explained.
When Solomon was pulled out of a scrimmage for a breather, he hardly rested. He could be found on the sidelines, working on techniques.
"I had to burn off some steam when I was not in the scrimmage" he stated. "I hate when the rest of the team is doing something and I'm not a part of it. It's tough when I am in that position. I can't be a leader if I'm not doing something while they are."
Those feelings were something he learned to channel this season, when a series of injuries, including a torn PCL in his left knee and an injury to his right ankle began to make it essential that he get a break from action during games.
"My ankle was actually the thing that held me back more than the knee," Solomon explained. "It would feel good when I first ran out there, but then there would be a play were it would get twisted. After that, it pretty much done for the rest of the game. I always want to be out there, but I came to realize that having a few plays off and then being able to come back full speed was better than trying to grind through it and not be full capacity," Solomon said.
His acceptance of this reality no doubt played a large part in his recuperation as the season wound down, and as he eventually tied Brandon Green as Rice's career sack leader. He had hoped the recovery would continue as Rice prepared for a bowl game, but the end of his Rice career has not caused him to pause in his routines. He was back in the weight room this week, shifting his focus to an offseason program.
The fact that he's not yet heard from any of the postseason all-star games is hardly a cause for concern.
"I can only control what I can, and to worry about things I don't is pretty much a waste of time. That doesn't motivate me," he stated.
Solomon looks back on five years at Rice, and the comparisons to the environment he first entered in the summer of 2007 gives him reason to smile.
"Everyone on the team plays football for the right reasons," he stated. "You play for the guys next to you, to be competitive and do it for the love of the game. We have that passion that keeps us playing hard. No matter the score we're always going to do all that we can for each other. What I love about Rice and will always remember is the support we have for each other.
"I feel like there is a lot of potential. There are so many more talented players on this team now, players who really care about the game and you can see how motivated they are to improve."
The 2011 Rice football home finale marks the 45th anniversary of the final home game for the most storied coach in Owls history, Jess Neely.
Neely had come to Rice in 1940 and had guided the Owls through several generations of changes to the football landscape. When he arrived, the Owls were squeezing fans into makeshift additional seating a Rice Field, located on the corner of University and Main. He guided the program through a world war, and then led the Owls to multiple Southwest Conference titles, trips to the Orange, Cotton and Sugar Bowls, and multiple finishes in the national top ten.
Along the way, his success spurred the construction of a new showplace for his team, Rice Stadium, which rose out of the ground on the far western edge of the Rice campus in a matter of months during the spring and summer of 1950.
Neely announced prior to the 1966 season that he would be stepping away from the sidelines. His final Rice team presented him an early going away present, downing and LSU squad that had played in the Cotton Bowl the year before, 17-15.
But the Owls fell on hard times over the next seven weeks, dropping all seven games. A 7-6 loss to Texas A&M on November 12, meant that when the Owls took the field for their final home game the following week against TCU, they had one last chance to allow their head coach the chance to walk off the Rice Stadium field a winner.
Here's the way the immortal Kern Tipps described the Owls 21-10 victory, the last of Neely's 144 wins with the Owls.
Michael Buttacavoli's quest for a 2012 PGA Tour Card brings the former Rice Owl back to Houston as the second stage of the Professional Golf Association's Q-School takes place on the Members Course at Redstone Golf Club in Humble.
The four-round tournament played Tuesday through Friday is the second of three stages in which the Top 25 finishers and ties earn full status on the PGA Tour while the next 50 finishers gain full status for 2012 on the Nationwide Tour.
The tournament at Redstone is one of six being played as part of the second stage of Q-School. A predetermined number of the top finishers from each of the six, second stage tournaments will advance to play in the Final Qualifying Stage at PGA West in LaQuinta, Calif., Nov. 30-Dec. 5.
Last month, Buttacavoli fired a four-round 280 (69-72-72-67) at the first stage of Q-School. The eight-under score was good for a tie for 14th. The top 22 finishers at the stage advanced on to the six second-stage events which will all be played next week.
At three-under par after three rounds of the first state, Buttacavoli was outside the cutline.
His final round began an hour and a half late because of weather and the course conditions. Six holes into the round, play was again called by weather. The delay lasted three hours before Buttacavoli got back on the course and finished around 6 p.m.
Despite the delays and weather conditions, Buttacavoli said he had one of the best ball-striking rounds in competition in a long time. He hit his last 17 greens in regulation and made the putts he needed to make.
"The cut after three days was about a five, so I had a feeling it could jump to six or seven, but didn't really know because of the weather. The wind had picked up and it was wet so the course was playing longer," Buttacavoli said. "I just knew I had to shoot a good score because I was only three-under going into the final round. I knew it would take something under par, how much I wasn't sure, but I tried to play one shot at a time, hit as many good shots as I could and make as many putts as I could. Keep it that simple."
Now, Buttacavoli heads to a course in which he has familiarity.
Players had an opportunity to rank the course sites in order of preference for both the first and second stages. Buttacavoli's first choice for the second stage was Redstone. During his playing career at Rice, he had an opportunity to play the course and the Miami Beach, Fla., native considers Houston his second home.
"I like the golf course," he said. "It's always nice to have seen a golf course before. It's an advantage to anyone to have played a place more than just a day or two prior to practice rounds so that was a big appeal. I know the playing conditions.
"In general, it gets pretty windy in Texas which I'm used to and Redstone gets the greens pretty firm and the ball rolls pretty fast. My home golf course, La Gorce Country Club in Miami Beach, has some of the best Bermuda greens I have ever putted on and they are very fast all the time. It's what I'm comfortable with because that's what I grew up on. If I can go and putt on greens that are similar to that, it's definitely an advantage."
In the coming week, Buttacavoli will be playing against a field of professional golfers who all have the same thing in mind - play well and advance. The 70-plus player field includes 2008 PGA Championship winner Shawn Micheel and Brian Watts, who was the runner-up at the 1998 U.S. Open, as well as others who have had success on the PGA Tour.
"You are playing against really good players. It's exciting," Buttacavoli said. "It's fun to play against guys that have won, especially if you beat them. You want to play against the better golfers. It's why you play and having done a bunch of Monday qualifiers all year, you get used to it."
In about a year and a half since helping the Owls advance to the NCAA Regional Championships as a senior, Buttacavoli has had success as a professional. He finished 65th on the National golf Association's Hooters Pro Tour money list. He advanced to the U.S. Open Sectionals and also during the year qualified for a Nationwide event before missing the cut by one stroke.
"I think my game has improved a lot since leaving college," he said. "I had some moments of playing really well on the Hooters tour but I haven't really put four rounds together in a tournament and that has held me back. Not making it out of the U.S. Open Sectionals and missing a Nationwide cut by one stroke, in all of my experiences, I have been able to draw something. It's conditions that I was unfamiliar with a year ago and anytime I can put myself in a new position I'm going to mature as a golfer and become better."
Culminating in the PGA's Q-School, Buttacavoli's first full year as a professional has truly been an education for the young golfer.
"I might have not played as well as I had hoped at times, but it's an experience," he said. "I'm getting better at handling the pressure. There are a lot of really good players who are not on the PGA or Nationwide tours and there are a lot of guys that are on the tours that may not look unbelievably good but they know how to get the ball in the hole because they know how to handle themselves. You learn how to handle yourself in a tournament setting. Continuing to play against better and better competition is the best thing for me."
On the Members Course at Redstone in the coming week, school is back in session.
(Photo Credits: Gary Kubiak, AP; Klein Kubiak, Anthony Vasser/Rice Sports Information)
In addition to his duties as a one of the Owls' wide receivers, Klein Kubiak stepped into the role of holding on field goals and extra points this season at Rice. In the process, he took on a role that his father, Gary, once handled as a member of the Denver Broncos.
Every two years, the R Association and Rice athletics honors its great athletes with the Rice Hall of Fame Ceremony. This year's event is on Friday, October 21. Being inducted are Rodrigo Barnes (football), Kenny Baugh (baseball), Bryan Bronson (track and field), Candace Lessmeister (track and field), Mandy Mularz (swimming), and Greg Williams (basketball). Along with the induction of the six newest members of the Hall of Fame, the R Association honors Ralph O'Connor with the Distinguished R Award and Audrey Ley with its Honorary R Award.
Today the R Blog presents a closer look at Hall of Fame inductees Mandy Mularz and Greg Williams.
Mandy Mularz - Hall of Fame Inductee
Mandy Mularz rewrote the Rice record books in her four years with the swim team, earning All-America honors, and leading the Owls to a Top 25 national finish. After earning All-America recognition as a member of the Owls' 200-yard freestyle relay team that finished eighth in the nation in 2001, Mularz set two individual school records by reaching the event finals of both the 50- and 100-freestyle at the NCAA championships as a junior in 2002.
The sprinter from Mobile, Ala., won the silver medal at the 2002 NCAA championships in the 50-free with a Rice record time of 22.17. She also finished 11th in the nation in the 100-free at the NCAAs. With Mularz accounting for all 23 points of Rice's final NCAA total, the Owls finished 25th in the nation at the 2002 NCAA Women's Swimming & Diving championships. She was a qualifier for the U.S. Olympic Trials. In 2003. went on to earn All-America honors for a third time in as many years by taking seventh in the nation in the 50-free at the NCAA championship.
Mularz won the swim program's Catherine Hannah Award as the Rice Swimmer of the Year in each of her last two seasons. She was named a Rice Scholar Athlete and an earned academic honors from the College Swim Coaches Association in 2003. In 2003 was the recipient of an NCAA postgraduate scholarship. In 2004 she was named the recipient of the "R" Association/Fred Stancliff Postgraduate Scholarship.
Greg Williams - Hall of Fame Inductee
Long before he became identified as the head coach of Rice's women's basketball team, Williams was no mystery to opposing Southwest Conference coaches as a star guard for the Owls. As a senior, Williams was named the Southwest Conference Player of the Year after averaging 21.2 points while shooting 50.6 percent from the field (202-399) and 83.2 percent at the free throw line (104-125). He scored 30+ points on four occasions. He closed out his career during the 1968-69 season by scoring 24 points in back-to-back victories a home against TCU (95-88) and on the road at SMU (96-90).
Williams was a second-team, All-Southwest Conference selection as a junior when he averaged 16.5 points per game. His season was highlighted by a pair of buzzer-beating shots in both games of the Owls' conference series with SMU as Rice swept both games over the SWC rival for the first time since 1946. He remains the Rice career record holder for free throw percentage at 85.8 percent (289-337).
Williams began his coaching career as an assistant to Don Knodel at Rice as the Owls captured the 1970 SWC title. He went on to coach both at the collegiate and professional level.
He coached six seasons at the University of Houston (1985-90) where he led the Cougars to the 1988 NCAA tournament and was named SWC Coach of the Year. At Colorado State (1991-97), Williams led the Rams to their first-ever NCAA tournament appearance in 1996 and the school's first Western Athletic Conference title. For his efforts he was named 1997 WAC Coach of the Year in addition to WBCA Region VII Coach of the Year. He enters his seventh season as the head coach of the Rice women's basketball team, where has led the Owls to three WNIT appearances (2006, 2007, and 2011).
This year's ceremony takes place in the R Room, atop the south end zone of Rice Stadium and begins at 5:30 p.m. with a social hour and the program commences at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $50.00 each and can purchaed by calling Mary Santos at 713-348-5677 or online:
Click for Hall of Fame Tickets