Freshman Monty Rice playing like ‘a pit bull’ for Dogs

Monty Rice (32) holds a blocking dummy as he and fellow inside linebacker Natrez Patrick receive instruction from position coach Glenn Schumann at a recent practice.

ATHENS — In a 2017 class full of 5- and 4-star recruits, there are a lot of well-known names expected to make some level of impact for Georgia in their freshman seasons. Invariably, though, there usually are one or two under-the-radar prospects who come through that nobody was talking about.

Jot down Monty Rice as a candidate that just might fill such a billing.

Rice, an inside linebacker from Madison, Ala., signed with the Bulldogs as a 3-star prospect. We really haven’t heard that much about him since he pulled a fast one on all the recruiting experts in early January and flipped his commitment from LSU to UGA. But Rice has been in Athens since that first week in January, and he has been making an impression.

While it’s hard to predict exactly how impactful the 6-foot-1, 235-pound true freshman might be six spring practices and one offseason strength-and-conditioning session into his career, there are indications he’s going to figure into things.

“He’s a pit bull,” said position mate Reggie Carter, who’ll be a fifth-year senior in the fall. “He goes, he goes. He’s a great kid. I thought he’d struggle to pick it up, just because that’s how everybody is their freshman year. But, I mean, he’s doing way better than I thought he would.”

As a recruit, Rice was somewhat of a rarity in this day and age. He wasn’t much for going through the trouble and expense to get to all the high-profile camps and he was a bit of a late-bloomer. He underwent a late growth spurt right before and into his senior season and really wowed college coaches when they got their first good look at him in the Alabama high school state playoffs.

But Georgia was on him earlier than most and was thought to be the team to beat all along. That is, until Rice committed to LSU in mid-December. He even said at the time, “I bet I surprised a lot of people.”

He did, but the Bulldogs didn’t let up. And their efforts paid off as Rice turned back their way just days before needing to leave home to become an early enrollee. It was a similar late-recruiting victory as the one Georgia executed with receiver Riley Ridley a year earlier.

“A young inside linebacker we were able to get right there at the end,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said this past week. “His head’s swimming right now, I’ll be honest with you. He’s like, ‘Whoa!’ He says, ‘I can tell you everything I’ve got to do in the meeting, coach, but when I get on that field, it happens fast.’ I said, ‘Welcome to the SEC.’

“But he’s got a bright future. I think he’s going to help us on special teams because he can run and he’s got some good size to him.”

It’s certainly going to be hard for Rice to find a spot on Georgia’s defense. The Bulldogs return both their leading tacklers in inside linebackers Roquan Smith and Natrez Patrick, as well as the experienced Carter. Tae Crowder, Juwan Taylor and Jaleel Laguins wait behind them.

In the meantime, there are the resident challenges that all freshmen must overcome.

“A different practice first and foremost,” Carter said. “And everybody’s good out there. It’s not like high school where you’re playing against a 5-11, 220-pound guard. He’s going against people like Sam Madden, Solomon Kindley and Isaiah Wynn. It’s not like high school. But he’s handling it real good.”

As for the “pit bull” reference” for Rice, Carter said, “He’s always on go, always on go, no questions, he’s always giving 110 percent.”

Rice has served notice to one and all that he’s going to push for consideration to be on the field in some capacity or another.

At least that’s what Carter thinks.

“He’s a big kid,” he said. “He kind of reminds me of (former UGA LB) Amarlo (Herrera) with that and how he plays. He gets after it, he runs to the ball, he does everything the coaches want him to do.”

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