Eric Rice will make his debut as coach at Columbus High School Friday night against New Hope. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch
August 8, 2018 9:40:44 PM
When school starts back in earnest, most prep football coaches are still fretting the last-minute details.
Some like to put off that season opener for as long as possible, so that the fine-tuning can continue at length.
New Columbus High football coach Eric Rice does not fit in that category.
Even though Rice has his program nowhere near where he wants it to be, he feels compelled to play a game.
"It's time to play," Rice said. "I know a lot of people don't feel that way right now. However, practice can only keep the players engaged for so long. The sooner we get some plays on tape, the sooner we get some experience, it will help us get where we need to be."
Columbus faces New Hope at 6 p.m. Friday at the New Hope Jamboree being played at Mississippi State's Davis Wade Stadium. The season opener is Aug. 16 when West Point comes to town for a Thursday night game at Falcon Field.
"It's impossible to know everything after one week of practice," Columbus senior safety Donate Gillespie said. "The coaches have been hitting us with a lot of things, as far as technique, schemes, everything. It's a new game."
While the ideal time for a new coach to be hired is January, Rice had things better than others. His hiring in March allowed him to guide the Falcons through 15 spring workouts.
"The spring was beneficial," Rice said. "We would certainly be way behind if we didn't go through the spring together. The main thing taken away from the spring was hard work. This whole team was made up of a bunch of hard workers. You can tell the work ethic was strong. Typically, when you inherit a team off a down season, they are not working at the maximum level. This team was down from last year, but determined to come back and make amends for that."
Rice had his coaching staff completed by the end of spring ball. Summer then brought another series of changes.
The first week of fall practice was finally a chance for an entirely-new staff to work with the team for a first time. The Falcons then put pads on Monday, which was also the first day of school.
"There just has been a lot of getting to know each other," Columbus senior linebacker Tidus Kirk said. "That's been the biggest challenge. Whether it was the right way or the wrong way, we had a system. (Former coach Randal Montgomery) was here for four years, so we knew what to expect. This is a new thing for all of us. For the seniors, there is no learning curve. We want to win and we want to win now, so it's pretty much up to us to make the most of this situation."
Rice said his full system -- offensively and defensively -- will most likely not be completely installed until the end of the regular season. For now, the Falcons are learning just a little bit more each day. Once something is retained by a large number of players, it's on to the next mission.
"You just can't overwhelm them," Rice said. "From the beginning, the main thing we have said is go hard, go fast and make plays. It's more important that players are encouraged to make plays. You can't pause in live action and think whether you are doing it right or not. That is what Monday after a game is all about."
Columbus lost its final six games to finish 2-9 a year ago. The Falcons had made the Class 6A playoffs in the prior two seasons.
Rice said he has watched film from all 11 games played last season. He said he found a team that always played hard even though the score was one-sided on multiple occasions.
"When you inherit a team, you don't look at the personnel right away," said Rice, who coached at Hickory Flat Attendance Center last season. "You look at how they play the game. You could tell the team faced a lot of adversity. There were still playing hard in the last game of the season. You look at that and say 'Good, we don't have to teach attitude.' It's a good starting point and then it's slow build from there."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.