Nothing has come easy for Georgia senior inside linebacker Monty Rice this season. The Bulldogs’ path to the College Football Playoff basically closed after the 44-28 loss to Florida on Nov. 7. Still, Rice continues to play a significant role on the team while battling a nagging injury.
He suffered a foot injury about a month ago and could have opted out of the season. Although, that’s not something that the leader of the defense did. Instead, Rice decided to play through the pain and continued to compete, despite missing a few practices.
Head coach Kirby Smart feels for the Alabama native, and said that he’s done nothing but try and improve for his teammates.
“The hardest thing is he’s injured, he’s hurting, but he’s able to go on game days. That’s probably the most important thing—that he’s been able to function,” Smart said. “If we didn’t think he could play on game days, he wouldn’t be out there.”
When he first was injured, Rice could have hung up his helmets and shoulder pads to focus on the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft. Luckily for the Bulldogs, that’s not the kind of guy Rice is. He chose to stick it out for the rest of the year. That shows how mentally and physically tough the team’s second-leading tackler is.
According to Smart, Rice is actually improving his draft stock by continuing to compete.
“This guy, he’s improving his opportunity to go in the NFL, because they have guys every week in the NFL who are 90 percent or 85 percent,” Smart said. “You see it every week; a guy goes out there and gives them what he can. He goes, because they’ve got a 53-man roster, and he might be the best player. For those guys, they’re going to think extremely highly—at least the guys I’ve talked to in the NFL—of the players who are willing to push themselves and play hurt, as long as he can’t injure himself worse, which can’t happen right now based on his injury. It’s not going to get worse. It’s a matter of what he can play with, and he’s a really tough guy.”
Smart is right in that aspect that Rice is setting himself up to be trusted in the future in similar situations. The fifth-year head coach said this week that Rice’s injury can’t get any worse, so continuing to play while essentially limping to the finish line shows how much grit Rice has.
The same can be said for fellow teammate and senior safety Richard LeCounte, who tweeted this week that he wants to finish the season with the team if even possible. Following the Kentucky game, he was involved in a motorbike incident that sent him to the hospital with several injuries. LeCounte was discharged from the hospital a few days later and has since been working with Georgia’s medical team.
Rice’s teammates know that he’s in pain, but appreciative of the effort he’s giving.
“He’s just Monty,” senior defensive lineman Malik Herring said. “He’s always battling through injuries to go out there and give it all he’s got. “He’s trying to be available to his teammates. I appreciate him for that.”
Georgia sophomore inside linebacker, Nakobe Dean, said that he’s not surprised that Rice didn’t give up.
“He’s still been working,” Dean said. “He’s encouraging everybody to get better every day. He’s a great leader, whether he’s been playing or not. It feels like he’s another coach out there.”
Rice has had some big performances for the Bulldogs this year, including the sack and fumble that was returned for a touchdown against Tennessee. He said he teared up a little bit and was glad that he could celebrate it alongside his teammates.
“Man, I hadn’t scored a touchdown since I was a senior in high school against Hoover (High),” Rice said earlier this season. “Actually it was against George Pickens. We blocked a punt and my homebody Jeremy blocked the punt. I picked it up and scored. That was the last time I scored a touchdown. But it was a surreal feeling and I kinda cried a little bit. Because you know – it’s just crazy and it felt like a movie or something.”
Smart knows that his senior leader will be ready for the Bulldogs from Starkville on Saturday night.
“What we know is we play Mississippi State at 7:30 on Saturday night, and that’s an opportunity for you to go showcase what you can do against really good competition,” Smart said.