Hang’em High, Stick’em Deep
By Dusty Ritter
When Jackson Rice comes on the field to punt the Ducks are in good hands. Rice’s knack for precision punts is a deadly weapon in the Oregon football arsenal. It’s not uncommon to see a Rice punt placed inside the 20-yard line without a return. He is consistently among the nation’s leaders in punting proficiency, landing him on the Ray Guy award watch list which annually recognizes the nation’s best punter.
Out of Moraga, California, he played at Campolindo High School. As a senior, he averaged 47.6 yards per punt and was named first-team all-Contra Costa County. In 2009 Rice was bestowed U.S. Army All-American honors, won the 2008-09 Maxwell award for best punter, and was rated the number one punter by Scout.com.
Continuing to excel at Oregon, Jackson started in 2009 as a true freshman. In the opening game, the Ducks faced Boise State on the road. With the offense sputtering and the crowd going wild, he responded with seven punts averaging 43.9 yards, including a long of 54 yards. Memorable also from that freshman season was his then personal best punt of 55 yards against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, sticking the Buckeyes’ at their 2-yard line.
In 2010, Rice made his season debut against Tennessee by placing four kicks inside the 20-yard line, and averaging 41.8 yards per punt with zero return yards to earn Pac-10 special team’s player of the week. In the BCS National Championship Game, in classic Chip Kelly fashion, he was called upon to complete an 11-yard pass to Marvin Johnson for a key first down. For 2011, he placed 17 of his 48 punts inside the 20-yard line, helping Oregon lead the nation in overall in net punting, finishing third on UO’s career list with an average of 42.7.
Q & A with Jackson Rice
MO: What was your first love in sports?
JR: Football. I grew up with football my whole life. My dad and grandpa played football, so it’s been in my blood. I grew up with a football in my hand from day one.
MO: How did high school football go for you?
JR: It was a good experience. I played linebacker and tight end in high school. Punting was a secondary thing for me, but an injury ended up sidelining me my junior year. It allowed me to focus on punting.
MO: Who were the other teams recruiting you and what made you choose Oregon?
JR: The other teams were: Washington, Alabama, LSU, and USC. I really liked Alabama, and thought they had a great program, but something about Oregon just clicked with me. I came here and it felt like home right away.
MO: When you’re about to make a punt, what goes through your mind?
JR: I try to eliminate everything going on in my mind. I try to have a clear mind, focus on my punt, and rely on practice to help me kick well. If you think about too many things, it can mess you up.
MO: How is Tom Osborne as a coach?
JR: In my opinion he’s one of the best special team coaches in terms of schemes. He’s been a great mentor to all of us, and really helped me from day one.
JR: Winning the Rose Bowl, that was pretty special. I’ll always remember my first game ever. I had a really great punt for my first career punt against Boise State. The games that really pop out for me are those big wins (when) we get together as a team, nothing really individual.
MO: What impact do you hope to leave behind when you graduate?
JR: Just being able to give the guys I have mentored, the younger guys on the team the tools they need for success.
MO: What would you like to do after football?
JR: I’d love to stay involved in sports. No matter what I’m doing, I’ll probably try to coach or do something like that on the side. Football was my first love and that’s always going to be in my life. I’ve gotten my degree in three and a half years, so I’m ready for whatever I need to do.
MO: Anything people might be surprised to know about you?
JR: I have a strong faith, and that’s something that is very important to me. I try to do everything with faith in mind. I’m very proud of my Italian heritage. People say I’m a good singer, but I try not to tell anyone because I don’t like to sing in front of them.
Coach Tom Osborne’s comments on Jackson Rice
MO: How has Jackson developed in his time at Oregon?
TO: He came in as a true freshman and developed faster than most first-year players. He has gotten better every year since he’s been here. He’s a weapon for us. He helps change field position.
MO: What are his strengths and what stands out about him?
TO: Strengths are mental toughness…he’s got a great strong leg. He can put the ball where he wants it in terms of placement.
MO: How valuable is he to the Oregon football program?
TO: Extremely valuable. Last year he had such an awesome season for us, and literally would change field position for us. Against Arizona, he kicked a 55- yard punt that wasn’t able to be returned.
TO: The first game he played in against Boise State. To put in a true freshman on the road in a hostile environment to punt and have him do that well… I haven’t seen that happen. I’ve done this a long time, and you don’t see true freshmen play at that level.
MO: How would you describe Jackson as a person and a player?
TO: Well, he’s very intelligent and has great people skills, with the maturity of a forty-year-old lawyer. He’s not a kicking geek; he’s an intelligent, sharp, and well-mannered guy.
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