One of the best

INDIANAPOLIS — Kyle Ralph doesn’t make recommendations lightly.

With an extensive collegiate and professional football background and years of coaching experience, the New Palestine head coach is well aware the precious little time his cohorts have when scouting potential recruits.

“The guys only have time to see two, maybe three kids per area,” Ralph said. “That’s sometimes it.”

So last season, when collegiate coaches inquired Ralph about players other than his Dragons worthy of their time, it was with the utmost care that he told them about one of his most formidable opponents: Lucas Rice.

In Ralph’s two years at New Palestine, he watched Mt. Vernon’s tenacious offensive and defensive lineman tear through the Hoosier Heritage Conference, piling up 27.5 sacks, while paving the way for more than 5,000 Marauders rushing yards.

“He is without question one of the best defensive tackles we’ve played against in the past two years,” Ralph said of the Indiana Football Coaches Association’s and The Associated Press’ all-state player. “If I had to pick a group of the four best lineman we’ve seen, he’d definitely be on it.”

Fortunately for Ralph, he no longer has to conjure up scenarios to get Rice on his team. At tonight’s 2015 Community Chrysler All-Star Classic at North Central High School, Rice and Ralph will be standing on the same sideline.

“I’m glad he’ll be on my team,” said Ralph, the head coach of the South squad. “He’s one of those guys for the past two years, well, you don’t look forward to blocking him.”

That will be Rensselaer Central and North team coach Chris Meeks’ problem tonight.

And for the next four years, finding a way to slow down the athletic 270-pound sackmaster will be the problem of the Great Lakes Valley Conference and the rest of the University of Indianapolis’ NCAA Division II competition.

Beginning this fall, Rice will don the Greyhounds’ grey and crimson instead of the familiar Marauder black and gold.

“It will be weird,” Rice said of no longer playing his home games in Fortville. “I’m really going to miss it, but I’m also really excited about the next four years.”

Part of that optimism is due to the opportunity he’s being afforded. According to UIndy defensive coordinator Chris Keevers, Rice has a chance to make an immediate impact for the Greyhounds.

“Lucas is a great fit for our program,” said Keevers, who began scouting Rice his sophomore year after receiving a tip from his “old friend,” Mt. Vernon head football coach Doug Armstrong.

For Rice, who models his game after Houston Texans star lineman J.J. Watt, the “plays hard every play” is where he draws the the most pride.

Watt’s fearlessness and nonstop motor are characteristics Keevers can definitely see in Rice. He also sees a sure-handed tackler and a play-wrecker up the middle.

Keevers, whose defense was 13th in the nation in points per game allowed (17.7) last year, envisions Rice being an immediate contributor by clogging up the interior of the line.

For Rice’s part, the opportunity to avoid the red shirt by earning playing time as a freshman was one of the biggest reasons he chose UIndy instead of LeHigh University and Valparaiso University.

And as an added bonus, when he reports to camp is less than a month there will a familiar face on the field in his longtime friend Brayton Shannon. Much to the delight of Rice, the back-to-back 1,000-yard Marauder rusher will be walking on to the team, trying to make it as a safety.

“I’ve been good friends with Brayton since I was five years old,” Rice said. “It’s weird but really cool that we’re going to college together.”

However, despite Rice’s excitement about running with Shannon and the Greyhounds in the near future, he is not looking past tonight’s game.

Rice, who was honored to have been asked to play in the classic, said he’ll be in it to win it.

“The first thing he (Ralph) said when we met with him is that he hates losing and wants to win the game,” said Rice, who is playing in his first all-star game. “That was great to hear. That’s exactly what I want.”

Lucas Rice

Name: Lucas Rice

Age: 18

Height: 6-foot-2

Weight: 265 pounds

City: Greenfield

High School: Mt. Vernon (2015)

College: University of Indianapolis

Grade: Freshman

Area of study: Sports marketing

Sport: Football

Position: Defensive line

Jersey Number: 93

High school stats of note:

  • Named 4A All-State by Indiana Football Coaches Association and Associated Press.
  • Amassed 314 tackles and 36 sacks in career at Mt. Vernon.
  • Helped lead Marauders to sectional title as a sophomore.
  • Two-year letter winner in basketball.

Hancock County players at UIndy: Brayton Shannon, Mt. Vernon (2015); Blake Luker and Tyler Walden, New Palestine (2014).

North-South all-stars joining Rice at UIndy: South — Bloomington South quarterback Bryce Stancombe and Evansville Reitz wide receiver Malik Higgins; North — Mishawaka defensive end Jacob Schmatz and Maconaquah offensive lineman Ben Stephenson.

If you go

What: Indiana Football Coaches Association North-South All-Star Game

When: 7 p.m., Friday

Where: North Central High School, Indianapolis

Who: New Palestine head coach Kyle Ralph will coach a South team made up of some of the state’s top seniors, including Mt. Vernon’s Lucas Rice (defensive lineman) and Logan Justus (kicker) as well as Dragons Noah Grable (tight end).