Rice quietly defending conference crown

By Clark Brooks

If you know anything about UK soccer, you have to have heard of junior defender Barry Rice.

The Parma, Ohio native burst onto the scene last fall for the Cats in a huge way. Even though he’s a defender, Rice stepped up and led the Cats in four offensive categories (goals, points, minutes and game winners). The play resulted in Rice winning the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year in 2007, as well as being named to First Team All-Conference and First Team NSCAA All-Region. Rice ended the season with seven goals and 15 points.

His performance last season has already established huge expectations for him this fall. Rice was named both preseason First Team All-Conference and Third Team All-America.

“Being named to those lists definitely puts pressure on you as a player to perform well,” Rice said. “It’s just part of the game.”

Rice’s motivational skills last year didn’t go unnoticed either. He was voted as a captain on the 2008 squad along with fellow junior midfielders Jason Griffiths and Dan Williams.

“Barry has intensity and a great positive energy,” head coach Ian Collins said. “His enthusiasm always adds onto the other players, which creates a high performance level. He’s a dominant defender who always leads by example.”

Besides being named to a few preseason teams, Rice is in contention with 47 other players from around the nation for the most prestigious award in men’s collegiate soccer. Rice has been put on the 2008 Missouri Athletic Club’s Hermann Trophy watch list. The Hermann Trophy is the Heisman of men’s collegiate soccer, which no one from UK has ever won.

“It is obviously a great honor,” Rice said. “My goal is just do the best I can and help the team perform well.”

Despite the preseason expectations, Rice has only accounted for one point so far this season, which was an assist in the Cats’ first game against Central Arkansas.

“Teams have started to scout me,” he said. “It has defiantly made it harder to get open and create space.”

However, Collins isn’t too concerned with the early drought from Rice because it creates more options.

“Since teams have begun to double- or triple-team Barry, other guys are left wide open,” Collins said. “He gets held and grabbed constantly, making it extra hard for him. But Barry is too good of an athlete for people to contain. He is a terrific passer and always a threat when he has the ball.”

Both Collins and Rice are optimistic that will change in time. The Cats still plan to use Rice on set pieces when the opportunity arises, and he has no doubt in his mind that he will be able to repeat as C-USA Defensive Player of the Year.

“I can repeat for sure,” Rice said confidently. “I haven’t been playing on the top level yet, but I know I will play better.”

The Cats (3-2) play Wednesday against the Michigan Wolverines (4-1-1) at the UK Soccer Complex.

“This will be an interesting game to watch,” Rice said. “I almost chose to sign with Michigan. Plus, both of us want to improve our records against non-conference opponents.”