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Owls take international football clinic on the road to Sydney

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After breakfast and morning meetings, the Rice Owls were back on the practice field Thursday to start fine-tuning for Sunday's (Saturday in the U.S.) season-opening football game against Stanford in the Sydney Cup in Australia.


While the majority of the team was at the David Phillips Sports Complex on the campus of the University of New South Wales, 13 freshmen and two injured upperclassmen made Rice's international football clinic even more international today.


The unique football clinic was launched in 2010 by head coach David Bailiff to help initiate Rice international students to the popular Texas and American game. By all accounts, it has been a smashing success, with national media outlets reporting on the Rice O-Week tradition and other universities imitating it for their own use.


When planning was getting underway for Rice to play Stanford in Sydney, Bailiff and Rice Athletics officials were looking for additional educational and cultural events to add to the itinerary. The international clinic seemed like a perfect fit for the trip -- and it was.


"We've had such great success with our own international clinic on campus that we reached out to the consulate in Houston and organizers of the Sydney Cup to help pair us with a school, and that school was Knox Grammar School," said Rick Mello, deputy athletics director at Rice.


Knox Grammar School is one of the largest schools in the state (New South Wales) and opened 120 years ago, according to Kieran Donohue, director of outdoor sports at Knox.

170824_Knox_Grammar_School 023 400.jpg"We have 1,800 students at the senior school and another thousand students at our prep school," he said. "We're really trying to professionalize (integrate) how we treat sports within the education sector, so I think it's a great link with what Rice students are doing with matching their academics with their performance of sports."


When the Owls arrived at the school in Wahroonga (just north of Sydney), they walked onto the playing field and watched a large group of students playing a game of American flag football. The Rice student-athletes became spontaneous sideline fans, cheering on great plays, giving high-fives and celebrating touchdowns with the young Aussie gridiron players.


"They're pretty good," said freshman wide receiver Chris Boudreaux. "Their play was a lot better than what I was expecting. I thought there would have to be a whole lot of teaching going on, but again, they're pretty good."


170824_Knox_Grammar_School 201 400.jpgAfter the flag football scrimmage ended, the Rice players organized the Knox students into five groups for the five stations they had set up. Each group ran six-minute drills. In total, there were 120 year-seven (seventh-grade) students at the quarterback, running back and offensive lineman, receiver, cornerback and safety, and defensive line and linebackers stations.


Earlier during the opening remarks by Owls junior defensive lineman Carl Thompson, one young Australian, Freddie Harris, was singled out by classmates after Thompson asked who knew the most about American football.  Harris, who is a Carolina Panthers fan, said he became a fan of American football two years earlier when running back Jarryd Hayne from Australia broke into the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers.


"It became a craze here, and I kind of liked it," said Harris, who had a good handle on the rules of the game. "I watch (the NFL) whenever the time zones overlap. I try to stay up with the Panthers and how they're doing. We get the Sunday night and Monday night games here, so I'm into those."


During the hour-plus visit, a truly unexpected performance with bagpipes broke out at midfield. Yes, bagpipes.


170824_Knox_Grammar_School 140 400.jpgAt one end of the pitch (playing field), someone from Knox had brought their bagpipes to life in what appeared to be an outdoor shed. That's when Rice freshman offensive lineman Gregor MacKellar, who is from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, mentioned he played the bagpipes. A few minutes later MacKellar started belting out some really good bagpipe music.


MacKellar said he has been playing bagpipes for 12 years and has played in pipe bands and in solo competitions. "I'm currently a grade one player," he said. With that, he turned the grass playing field into a musician's stage, and everyone looked on and loved it. Watch the daily video above to see MacKellar's talents.


At the end of the Rice football clinic, each of the 120 students who participated received four tickets to Sunday's Rice-Stanford game.


170824_Weight_Training_Rugby_Club 016 400.jpgAt about the same time the Rice-Knox event was wrapping up, the rest of the Owls were taking turns visiting the New South Wales' Waratahs rugby facility to put in weight-lifting sessions, a part of the training routine that Bailiff said the team was maintaining in Sydney.


Later in the day, Bryan Blair, senior associate athletic director for sport administration and compliance, and Jennifer Brydon, senior manager of international advising and programs, represented Rice and were joined by Oliver Luck, executive vice president of regulatory affairs at the NCAA, for an Education USA, NCAA and Rice University outreach event at Endeavor Sports High. The trio spoke to a group of coaches, administrators, students and parents about the opportunities for international students to earn scholarships at NCAA schools. The event provided insight into what international students must go through to be accepted into an NCAA institution.


Sports HS1 400.jpg"To get here and see how eager everyone was to ask questions, to get knowledge and see how excited they are about sports in the United States, it was energizing," Blair said. "I was glad to help and spread knowledge about what we do and how we do it and to help spread the word about NCAA competition."

With another full day in the books, the Owls were treated to an evening out at Manly Beach. Being that it's winter here and the sun was already going down at 5:30 p.m. when the bus departed from the team's hotel, the team didn't go there for the sand and surf; rather, they went for the shopping and dining on Manly's boardwalk.


Today's quick takes:


Rice University President David Leebron and University Representative Y. Ping Sun will arrive in Sydney Friday and attend various meetings. They will also make a visit to the University of Sydney with a few Rice football players. We'll have coverage of that tomorrow.


All of us here in Sydney are aware of the impending weather situation back home in Houston, and Athletics officials are in communication with Rice's Crisis Management Team regarding the situation.

View more photos from the Owls' third day in Sydney by using the arrows below in the Flickr gallery.

Owls take international football clinic on the road

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