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November 2016 Archives

Seniors Ride Off in Style

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VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS

The day could not have been more perfect.

A chilly morning quickly gave way to brilliant sunshine and temperatures that mocked the date on the calendar.  While large parts of country were bundled up while prepping for their Thanksgiving Day festivities, the Rice Football team's final practice zipped along in near perfect conditions.

But before the team could disburse to friends and families for feasts of their own in advance of an early departure on Friday to travel west for the season finale against the Stanford Cardinal, the Owls had one final piece of business.

SENIORS' LAST PRACTICE PHOTO GALLERIES

2008 / 2009 / 2010 / 2011 / 2012 / 2013 / 2014 / 2015  / 2016

With the practice script completed, head coach David Bailiff gathered the Owls together for a few final words and then the seniors on the team broke away to take one last walk around the turf at Rice Stadium.   Up the sideline they had called home for so many Saturdays (and a few Thursdays and Fridays as well), around the south end zone and past the entrance generations of other Owls had used to enter the field, and then down the east sideline toward their new home in the Brian Patterson Center, and then to their teammates were waiting for them in a reception line in the north end zone.   

The team then joined again together to begin the final act in a closing ritual that Bailiff had brought with him from his days at Texas State.  

As has each class of seniors over the past 10 years, each player selected four team members or staff to carry them from the field to the north end zone, symbolically ending their time as a player on their historic venue's playing surface.

The strategy is as varied as the individuals who make up the team.  Some select members of their position group, others select 

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roommates and other friends, others can be more eclectic.

The slam dunk winner for best explanation for his selections over the past decade was offensive guard Davon Allen, a four-year letterman from 2008-11 (left).  When he first arrived on campus, he had great difficulty in completing the summer conditioning workouts, so he called out two trainers in addition to two teammates for his transportation, explaining "they had to carry me off the field my first day here, so they might as well carry me off on the last day."

The 2016 Owls did not have anything as colorful among their selected lineups.

But in the midst of the laughs and camaraderie that was evident as the tradition was fulfilled, that merriment masked an underlying realization that a cherished and dominant part of their lives had drawn to a close.

"Every year you see players who you would never guess would show emotion getting choked up because the reality really sets in," Bailiff said.  "You know it's going to happen, but it's always a powerful moment when a player comes to the end of the line to shake your hand and you see tears in their eyes."

After 10 years, it has become a shared experience for a generation of Owls and one that younger players can expect to take part in down the road.  

Walking Off A Winner

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 Rice vs. UTEP

Saturday, November 19 /11 a.m. /Rice Stadium
Radio: SBNation 1560
Webcast: ESPN3 
 



Fittingly, there appears there will be some level of chill in the air.

Even though each football season begins the in the legendary heat and humidity of the Gulf Coast,  the conclusion of each season comes at time when thermometers return to the numbers reserved for running backs and the concept of layering clothes must be recalled.

Each year begins with the grind of long days of training camp and then in the blink of an eye, it is time to bid farewell to another senior class who will step on the turf of Rice Stadium one last time.

This class of 17 will take the field hoping to extend a streak they have inherited from the past eight senior classes, each of whom took a measure of pride in knowing they left the Rice Stadium on their last game day with a "W" on the board. That streak of wins has given Rice a 52-49-2 record in season finales (there were no home games in the 1912 season).

Saturday's opponent, UTEP, has been a familiar witness to the traditions of Senior Day, having played in the Owls home finale six times since 1997, including twice in the last three years. The two have also reserved most of their battles for November, with Saturday's being the 15th time in 20 meetings the two have met in the season's final full month.

There have been improbable rallies against UTEP, capped by a wild 28-point fourth quarter on Homecoming Day in 2007 when Chase Clement produced a school-record eight touchdowns and 498 yards of total offense against the Miners.  There was a 30-29 win in 2009 that saw Tyler Smith rush for 127 yards against the same team he had severely injured a knee against two years earlier. 

There was Nick Fanuzzi throwing for 405 yards on Homecoming in 2011 as the Owls rebounded from a 73-34 loss to Houston the week before with a 41-37 win.  And there was the moment when Jeremy Eddington blew past the retiring Mike Price along the UTEP sideline to answer a Miner touchdown with the first kickoff return by an Owl  since Madonna's heyday to cap an run to a bowl game and set of a joyous response to the question as to if there were too many bowl games.

This class as well will always be remembered as members of the cast who authored this viral postgame reaction to a bowl bid. 

Senior Day dramatics have not been the sole responsibility of the Miners.  There was the shootout win over Houston in 2008, a game that for the first time saw both schools take the field bowl eligible.  There was the video game number piled up by Rice and Tulsa, nearly 1,300 yards in a 48-43 loss in 2007, the last Senior Day loss for the Owls.

PHOTO GALLERY: Rice vs. UTEP

And there was the sunny day in 2006 when Rice and SMU found themselves locked in an improbably winner-take-all battle for a bowl game.  

The 2006 Owls that entered the year with a new coach and little expectations coming off a 1-10 season. But from the first snap of an opening 31-30 loss to Houston, it was apparent this team had buried the past, ignored the sparse expectations and was only interested in what transpired on the field.  They endured the physical toll of an insane opening run of games that featured Houston, UCLA, Texas and Florida State in successive weeks as well as the unimaginable shock and pain of the passing of freshman Dale Lloyd.

They drew closer, sealing off any outside forces seeking to deter their vision and being to win game sin the most improbable of ways. They won their last six, twice with three seconds left and once on the last play of overtime.  Ten years ago on Friday, Clark Fangmeier's field goal with three seconds left beat East Carolina to set up a Senior Day showdown the following week against SMU, with a bowl berth the winner.   

The Owls sent that Senior Day crowd into a frenzy with a dramatic 31-27 win to earn a special place in Rice history  and fittingly  members of that team will return for this Senior Day to be recognized on the anniversary of their signature moment.  

Senior day will be a day to honor the accomplishments of a group of 18 individuals who will take with them memories of some of Rice's greatest success in recent times. Some will make the walk in ceremonies in street clothes as injuries brought the playing time to a premature end.  Two, Justin Carter and David Wilganowski, will do so having never played a down, but have steadfastly contributed to their team in other roles.  

While all Rice graduates proudly leave South Main with their school ring, this group carry an impressive set of additional hardware thanks to including three bowls, two bowl championships and the school's first conference title in 56 years.

In terms of conference titles, Jess Neely stands alone as the Rice head coach who captured more conference crowns than any other and Saturday marks the anniversary of his own final Senior Day .  On this date in 1966, Neely coached his final home game at Rice Stadium and saw his Owls present him with the last of his 144 wins on South Main with a 21-10 win over TCU. 


During his career, the saying was that "November was for Neely" and the Hall of Fame coach certainly delivered on this, posting a 74-53-3 record at Rice. 

In recent times, the modern version of the Owls have had an uncanny ability to fashion repeated success at home in the season's last month.  They have won 16 of their last 18 games in November or later. 

Saturday will arrive with a chill in the air and with the knowledge that for most, their football careers have reached the penultimate act with a road trip to Stanford remaining on the itinerary.

Saturday affords a chance to add another milestone to their legacy, pass the baton to the next generation of Owls and take the lasting memory of a final walk of victory on to the next chapter of their lives. 

A winning walk on a chilly Houston November day is the ending they all seek. 

Passing on the Lessons Learned

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Rice at Charlotte

Saturday   1 p.m. Central

Jerry Richardson Stadium

Campus Insiders

SBNation 1560

GameTracker


First things first... No one calls Luke Turner "Bob"  these days.

That moniker seems to have stayed behind in Houston where Turner was a stalwart on a set of Rice football teams that went to three bowls, set a record for most wins over four seasons and captured the school's first conference championship since 1956.

After his college career concluded, Turner took a stab at extending his football playing days by training for the Owls Pro Day, showcasing the multitude of skills that gave him far more responsibilities than letters in his adopted name.  But when no professional team extended an offer, Turner made the decision to pursue a career in coaching and found himself back where he learned the game, Gilmer, Texas where he joined his father Matt's coaching staff.

"These days, mostly I hear 'Mr. Turner', which takes some getting used to because I think they're calling for my dad," Turner said laughing.

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Saturday, the current set of Owls will take on Charlotte at 1 p.m., the same team against which Turner's career closed in 2015 with a 27-7 Senior Day win.   The game might have been nothing more than a footnote to a 5-7 season, one in which Turner took over at quarterback to run the Wild Owl package and lead the team with 49 yards rushing and throwing his first touchdown pass since 2013, but he had one last memorable moment in him.  

Turner's production earned him a spot in the season's final postgame press conference, and what followed would quickly become a viral video sensation.  

His heartfelt thanks to his head coach, David Bailiff, for honoring a scholarship offer even after Turner had suffered a broken leg as a high school senior season.   The reaction to the video became so great that Tom Rinaldi from ESPN came to Houston the following week to tape a segment for that week's GameDay show.

The video eventually topped 750,00 views and stood as the most watched video on the Rice YouTube channel until this past week when a 2013 video of Chris Boswell's rabona onside kick vs. Houston was revived in the aftermath of Boswell's aborted attempt to repeat the kick in a game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens.

 While the video enjoyed its moment in the fleeting fame cycle of cyberspace, its accessibility means his current students can call it up at any moment.

"The only time anyone brings it up is when my students ask me if there is any video from me playing at Rice." Turner said. "When they Google my name, that's the video that comes up.  Then they get on me for crying and ask me why there isn't anything of me actually playing.

"It's been crazy how the time went by so fast.  It's hard to believe it's been a year since that video went viral and ESPN came to town.   Now, here I am back in Gilmer, teaching and coaching football," Turner said.

Turner teaches computer classes and coaches the fullbacks for the seventh ranked Buckeyes who downed Dibol 50-28 on Thursday in the opening round of the Class 4A D2 playoffs.  He can't help but catch glimpses of himself in the current group of players and feel a definite connection.

"It has been amazing to come back where I learned the game of football," he noted. "It's fun to be able to coach kids who look up to me from my time playing here and then at Rice.  I had not been home much over the last four years during the season and it has been great to be back in this atmosphere with the tradition that has been built over the years. "

He admitted that one of his biggest challenges has been to dial back the passion he brought to the field.

"I had to adjust to a different kind of emotion during the game." He explained. "I'm into the game as much as ever,   but I can't show as much emotion as I did when I was playing.  I have to be there for these kids and helping them to keep their focus."

He's also gained a greater appreciation of things related to the game that he had taken for granted when he moved to the college level.

"I've gained a new view of the game since I've come home.   These kids are playing the game because they want to and because they love it.  When you've played so much football, you forget how special it was to get that first chance to take the field and there is nothing like offering a player that opportunity.

"Unlike in college where you go with the commitment to play football, these kids would be here going to school anyway.  They make the choice to come out here and put in the effort to compete and almost all of them will never play at the next level.  I appreciate so much what our guys do. We push them pretty hard because of the traditions that come with playing for Gilmer.

"I was lucky in that I got to play more football than 99% of the guys who have come through this program and even though most of the kids I coach are not likely to have that chance, what they bring every day is raw and real  and it's special to be here with them."

The theme of Turner's talk after the Charlotte game of 2015, of a career likely coming to an end and the gratitude he felt to the men who had guided him on that journey now resonates with Turner from a different perspective. 

He is now the one who is the guide for the journey of others.

"Now that it's the playoffs, the reality hits each of them, that this week could be the last week, the moment when there is no more football.   There is real emotion when you come to that realization and I know that from my own experience. 

You could see a difference in every senior this week.    They have their own stories and their own reasons for playing and being a part of the tradition of Gilmer football, They have grown up with the game and watching this team as kids and now they wonder if each day if it will be the last practice."

Thankfully, that reality has been postponed for at least a week as the Buckeyes advanced, but short of a state championship, Turner knows his charges will face the reality of a career ending as the aftermath of a loss.

It's a scenario he hopes they can avoid, but one he is prepared to help them through.  

"Hopefully we can go all the way and they can walk off the field for the last time with a win but I know they all are better for having been our here and played the game. 

"And I know I am really happy to be here with them in Gilmer. "

 

 

Far Eastern Owl

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Paul Porras Asahi Bio 

In the days after he helped lead his new football team to a playoff berth thousands of miles from Houston, Paul Porras was suddenly transported back in time to 2013 when he was on the receiving end of one of most unique onside kicks in college football history.

The video of Chris Boswell's successful 2013 rabona kick against Houston was revived from the YouTube archives and began an improbable second viral run after Boswell's attempt to replicate the fete with the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Baltimore Ravens did not go as planned.   The video has garnered over 536,000 views in less than four days, to surpass Luke Turner's 2015 postgame press conference tribute to David Bailiff as the most watched video in the Owls channel.

For his starring role as the Owl who knifed under Houston's Deontay Greenberry to recover Boswell's masterwork, Porras was rewarded with a flood of text messages from friends telling him he was on SportsCenter and countless social media sites.

"Ian Gray (former Rice offensive guard) messaged me saying I was on Sportscenter with Chris Boswell for our onside kick highlight from the 2013 season," Porras recalled from Amagasaki, Japan where he is playing for the Asahi Soft Drinks Challengers of the X League, Japan's professional American football league. 

"I was blown away by the amount of views the video picked up in the course of a day," Porras said.  "Unfortunately the reason for ESPN to bring up the video was due to the fact that Chris muffed a rabona onside kick attempt in his game against the Ravens last weekend.  But his onside kick in college was a beauty and I am grateful to be a part of a little history in the college football world!"

Porras was a three-year starter at KAT for the Owls from 2011-13 and ranks eighth on the Rice career tackles chart with 295.   He was a standout on the Owls 2013 C-USA Champions and also a C-USA All-Academic choice.

He hoped to continue his career at the next level and returned to his native Arizona to train with Hakim Hill, a former Arizona State running back who had also played in the UFL with former Rice quarterback Chase Clement.  Porras hoped to earn a tryout for either the CFL or Arena League, in the spring of 2015, but a pair of hamstring injuries short-circuited that effort.  After he recovered, he practiced with the Arizona Wranglers of the Arena League, but there were no roster spots available.

Porras' desire for a continued football career waned and he took a sales job with a solar energy company in Arizona, but he quickly learned it was not a career path on which he wanted to embark.    

"After a year and a half of the 'cubicle life' I realized I didn't want to make a career out of solar sales," he recalled. "With the help of my parents pushing me to get back into training for football, I decided to give it one more chance." 

He began training with Coach Don Abram who has a gym in Mesa, Arizona and trains numerous professional athletes. He had tryouts with CFL teams in the spring of 2016 but another hamstring injury foiled that effort. After he recovered, he received a call from Reggie Mitchell, who played 10 years in the Japan X League, asking if he had any interest in playing overseas.

"I took the opportunity and ran with it," Porras said.  "The head coach from the Asahi Soft Drinks Challengers flew out to Arizona and put me through a complete combine test.  I did very well and signed a contract to play for the 2016 fall season."

Porras committed to taking his talents half a world away without direct connection to the country and people who were offering him the chance to return to the field.

"I had no idea what I was getting myself into," he admitted. "I just took this chance to leave America for the first time and experience the other side of the world.  I honestly didn't prepare for the culture change.  I only talked to a few relatives about their experiences in Japan.  I was going to Japan pretty much blind and planned on winging it when I got there.

The X League was created in 1997 as the successor to the Japan American Football League which was founded in 1971.   Porras was joining a team whose coaches spoke only basic English and who could carry a maximum of four American players.

He was also joining a team mostly comprised of Japanese players who were more than ready to prove their skills against their much more experienced American teammates.

"At the start, my teammates were always trying to make the big play against me or prove themselves to me.  A lot of the players didn't think I was good at first because I wasn't going all out in practice like they did.  But once the first game came in August and I made 15 tackles and two tackles for loss, I earned the respect of my coaches and players. 

In the time away from football, Porras had sprouted a bushy red beard and he kept his distinctive look when he headed to Japan. His appearance made almost as big an impression on his teammates and fans as his play on the field.  

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"I knew the Japanese people were going to look at me strange because of my beard," Porras said. "I feel like an alien at times out here with the looks I get from people out here.  My beard has been a major topic of conversation out here.  I've been called Santa Claus, ZZ Top, and Dumbledore. Everyone wants to touch my beard.  I feel like a zoo animal at times," he added.     

Off the field, Porras had to overcome the challenges of new foods as the language barrier. Weekly classes have made him more comfortable in conversation and his part-time job during the week has allowed him to practice his skills.

"I work part-time with a Japanese real estate company during the week," he noted. "I help with marketing and public relations.  I go to many events and dinners with my business partners.  I have thoroughly enjoyed making the connections I have in Japan and will keep the friendships I have made when I am back in America." 

His basic language skills are no match for the rapid fire cadence of his Japanese coaches, who make no allowance for their American players.  But weekly individual meetings with the defensive coordinator allow him to grasp the game plan and prepare for each game.

On the field, Porras has found yet another unique set of challenges in an otherwise familiar environment on the field.

"Japanese players are undersized and a lot of the players lack the same experience and knowledge that Americans have," he said. "I have been playing football for 17 years while my teammates have only been playing for 4 or 5 years.  The Japanese football culture is much different than that of America.  Trust, pride, and team morale are some of the differences I have experienced out in Japan.   Team moral and intensity is low at times, especially when we are losing a game.  I have been instilling a positive and upbeat presence on the sidelines and on the field from the first day I was with the team.  It has been great seeing the transformation of my team in the past few months.

"The hardest thing to try and impress upon my teammates is believing in their abilities and the fact that we can beat any team on our schedule," he stated. "A lot of players out here don't trust in the coaching or their own playing ability and it shows during games.  In practice these players are phenomenal, and then all of a sudden it's game time and they're a completely different player.  Players need to buy in and trust in the system the coaches put in play."

His message of encouragement was backed up by his examples on the field, cemented by a pivotal play to earn the Challengers a playoff berth.  Late in the game, he forced a fumble to clinch a victory and playoff position and in the postgame elation, he found himself in a familiar spot.

"My teammates and coaching staff were crying after the game because that's how much they knew we needed to win that game. It truly was a blessing to be a part of that experience.  This season has really been similar to my 2012 season with Rice because of the way we have been able to turn a terrible season into a productive one.  We started the season of this year 1-4 and now are currently 3-5.  For us that is a big deal because of the strength in schedule and the many obstacles we have had to face with players not being able to make it to practices due to their jobs as well as many key injuries.  My teammates have been buying into the idea that we can actually beat anyone in this league.  Playing with confidence is what separates the teams out here."

Porras has struck up a friendship with a number of his fellow American players, including Darwin Rogers (ArizonaState) Donnie King (Hawaii), Emory Polley (Brown) , Sean Draper (Iowa) John Stanton (UNLV), , BJ Beatty  (Colorado)  to name a few in addition to Jerry Neuheisel who faced off against Porras when the Bruins played at Rice Stadium in 2012.

This week's playoff game will bring him face to face with another former rival, former Louisiana Tech quarterback (Colby Cameron).

"It's been a fun experience meeting these guys and getting to know them better off the field," Porras said.  

Win or lose on Saturday, Porras has collected a lifetime of memories while also reaching his goal of continuing to play the game he has loved since childhood.    He's also found a path for his post-football career. 

"I am actually looking to focus on my own business that I am starting with my girlfriend Mande Moses called The Power of 24.  We will be helping people from all walks of life change their limited beliefs through motivational speaking, affirmation audio tapes, and coaching through our subscription based website.  We are planning to launch our company by the beginning of next year.  I am extremely excited to help others find their true passion and purpose in life."

 

 

Owls v Owls to Mark Rice' Debut as ESPN3 Provider

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 Watch Rice vs. Florida Atlantic on ESPN3

 Rice Athletics will take the next step in the migration towards a self-sufficient video delivery platform when Saturday's football game between Rice and Florida Atlantic is broadcast on ESPN3.   Rice will join with North Texas this weekend to become the third and fourth Conference USA schools to deliver a game production feed to ESPN3.

Brett Dolan and N.D. Kalu will call the action in the game that kicks off at 2:30 on Saturday and will return to call the action when Rice hosts UTEP for Senior Day at 11 a.m. on November 19.

Rice installed a state-of-the-art control room for the new Daktronics video board as part of the Brian Patterson Sports Performance Center project in the north end zone of Rice Stadium which opened prior to the 2016 season. 

This quantum upgrade in Rice's video production capability coincided with C-USA's new broadcast partnership with ESPN which was announced this summer. In addition to selected games carried on the ESPN cable networks, the new relationship also created the opportunity for additional games to be distributed through their streaming platform.

ESPN3 is ESPN's live multiscreen sports network, a destination that delivers thousands of exclusive sports events annually. It is accessible on computers, smartphones, tablets and connected devices through WatchESPN.

The network is currently available nationwide at no additional cost to fans who receive their high-speed Internet connection or video subscription from an affiliated service provider. It is also available at no cost to U.S. college students and U.S.-based military personnel via computers, smartphones and tablets connected to on-campus educational and on-base military broadband and Wi-Fi networks.

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