Sidney Rice could almost feel the humidity as he thought back to that sweltering summer day his first offseason in Columbia.
South Carolina head coach Lou Holtz was in one of his moods. The former Notre Dame lead man had seen enough “going through the motions” in practice. He blew his whistle and offered a decree.
“That’s it,” Rice recalled Holtz saying. “I don’t want to see another ball hit the ground unless it’s No. 4.”
“I looked down at my jersey (to see No. 4),” Rice said, laughing. “And I was like, ‘Holy crap. He thinks so highly of me I better get whipping into shape and start doing (well).’ ”
It wasn’t that long ago that Rice was the big man — figuratively and literally — on USC’s campus. Steve Spurrier, at first, thought Rice was too big to play in his system when he took over for Holtz ahead of the 2005 season.
Those initial concerns, though, were blown away by a spellbinding dynamism that helped Rice break Sterling Sharpe’s all-time program record for receiving touchdowns in just two years. Those efforts also twice earned him first team All-SEC selection and later saw Rice selected in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings.
Monday, the Gaffney native’s receiving ability netted him an induction into the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame as part of the 2022 class alongside former Wofford football coach Mike Ayers, longtime Clemson athletic trainer Fred Hoover and ex-Charlotte athletics administrator Judy Wilkinson Rose.
“I always think back about the people I watched when I was in middle school, in high school, and the things that they did in the state of South Carolina playing athletics,” Rice told The State. “I can’t get over it. I’m blown away to be inducted into to the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame.”
Moments like those Rice enjoyed Monday alongside his fellow inductees offered brief chances to recount tales of his prolific ability on the field and his time as an undergrad in Columbia.
Former USC quarterback and current radio play-by-play voice Todd Ellis — who was also honored Monday as part of a 2020 class that had its celebration canceled during the COVID-19 pandemic — chuckled while recalling a 2005 win over Tennessee that he called.
Spurrier, determined to find the right matchup for his big-bodied receiver, called back-to-back timeouts on third and goal from the 5-yard line to ensure Rice could find space to make a play on a pass from quarterback Blake Mitchell.
Rice quipped that the first two plays his head coach called were scratched due to the coverages Phil Fulmer’s Volunteers presented. The third play — the one that netted Rice a crucial touchdown reception in the back-middle portion of the white-and-orange-checkered end zone — was basically drawn up in the dirt.
“Sidney falls right in there as a guy that you literally could say, ‘Yeah, we’re going to throw it to him a dozen times in a day and it would shock no one,’ ” Ellis said. “And he would catch it 12 times if you really wanted to in the game plan.”
Rice doesn’t make it back to Columbia all that often, spending the bulk of his time in Seattle, where he concluded his seven-year NFL career as a member of the Seahawks in 2013. But trips back to the college town that still holds him in legendary esteem has its perks.
He joked that a visit to Lizard’s Thicket, one of his favorite spots during his time at USC, was on the agenda. Sunday also included a trip to Bernie’s Chicken.
There are the people, too, who make visits to Columbia particularly special.
Rice and former Clemson running back C.J. Spiller, a 2020 South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame inductee, twice faced off against one another during their college days and again a handful of times during their NFL careers.
Monday, the former rivals traded friendly words as they caught up ahead of the official ceremony.
“You had to put two (defenders) on him,” Spiller said of Rice. “I mean, we weren’t going single coverage. He was a great player. He had the height. He had the speed. He had the hands. You have to have a game plan for guys like that.”
Rice’s playing days are now almost a decade past, his final NFL season concluding in 2013.
His sleek physique and muscular arms, though, are a quick visual reminder of the matchup nightmare he once was on the grounds of Williams-Brice Stadium and around the SEC.
Rice finished his time at South Carolina with 142 receptions for 2,233 and 23 touchdowns receiving — not bad for that youthful but bouncy No. 4 on the practice fields of Columbia 18 years ago.
South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame Inductees
Class of 2020
Peter Boulware (Football) – Columbia native; Florida State and NFL
Dan Driessen (Baseball) – Hilton Head; Cincinnati Reds
Todd Ellis (Football) – South Carolina quarterback
Ed Lynch (Baseball) – South Carolina pitcher; Chicago Cubs general manger
Gaylord Perry (Baseball) – Limestone baseball coach; MLB Hall of Fame
C.J. Spiller (Football) – Clemson and NFL running back
Roberta Williams (Basketball) – Charleston; S.C. State hoops legend
Class of 2022
Mike Ayers (Football) – Wofford football coach
Fred Hoover – Clemson; “Father of Sports Medicine in S.C.”
Sidney Rice (Football) – Gaffney, USC, NFL wide receiver
Judy Wilkins Rose – Blacksburg; UNCC director of athletics