ATHENS — Georgia linebacker Monty Rice will be in the middle of the action Saturday night, accounted for on every play by Vanderbilt blockers coming high and low from every direction.
Rice embraces the challenge, and that’s why Kirby Smart has put his trust in him as a leader entering the No. 3-ranked Bulldogs’ 7:30 p.m. season-opening game Saturday.
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“I’m not scared of anything on this planet, not scared of anybody,” Rice said, asked what makes him such an effective player. “I’ll just play hard.”
Rice was leading Georgia in tackles most of last season, before going down with a foot injury he suffered in warm-ups leading up to the UMass game.
Rice had already missed time with a sprained knee that had also hampered him throughout the 2018 campaign.
“I feel so much better than last year,” Rice said following practice on Wednesday night. “Last year, it was like one thing after another just kept happening.”
Rice credits more time receiving treatment in the training room — specifically the cold tub — for his ability to enter this season on a much healthier note.
Smart said on the SEC teleconference on Wednesday that he likes what he has seen from Rice.
“Monty is a leader, (and) he gives exceptional effort,” Smart said. “He works really hard in the classroom and in the meeting room. For us, he’s done really well, and we’re really proud of Monty.
“He works his tail off. It’s really important to him, and he leads others. He had an injury last year and that frustrated him. He’s been pretty healthy, especially for a linebacker.”
Still, Rice will start this season in relative anonymity outside of the Georgia fan base.
Rice played his high school football in Alabama, but he was not offered a scholarship by the Crimson Tide.
At the SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala., last month, Rice was snubbed, not named first, second or third-team preseason All-SEC.
Rice just shrugged it off on Wednesday.
“I didn’t even know I wasn’t first, second or third team, but it is what it is,” Rice said. “It’s not my job to pick it, I just go out there and play.”
Make no mistake about it, Rice is ready to roll.
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