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Drew Rice era begins

Drew Rice addresses Tyler Whitson during his first game as the new head coach of the Blue Devil football program. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)
Drew Rice addresses Tyler Whitson during his first game as the new head coach of the Blue Devil football program. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

There will be no “interim” tag placed in front of Drew Rice’s name this season.

Rice was officially introduced on Tuesday, Sept. 20, as the new head coach of the Unicoi County High School football program for the remainder of this season and seasons to come.

His appointment to the position follows the resignation of Glenn White last week.

“It’s an honor to introduce the new head coach of Unicoi County High School football,” Director of Schools John English said during a press conference held at the Board of Education.

English then recounted Rice’s successes as a football and basketball player at UCHS.

“He was a player on the 2006 playoff team for UCHS,” English said. “As a basketball player he made three substate appearances, was a three-time conference champion and three-time district champion. … He had a 42-0 record (in conference games) on the basketball court as a starter.

“In short, Drew Rice is someone who knows what it takes to be successful and is a proven winner,” English continued. “He will bring those characteristics as head coach of the UCHS football program.”

Rice described being hired as the head football coach as “an honor and a privilege.”

“It is something I wanted to do,” he said. “I didn’t think it would happen this quick, but it has and we are going to run with it.

“We have our work cut out for us, but we have some kids that can play. We have the bye week right now. We are working on some things and trying to get some kids healthy. I think we can make a little run and find our way into the playoffs at the end of the year.

“In the winter, we will be changing things from top to bottom – with our middle school and feeder program,” Rice continued. “We will deal with that come November. Right now is about getting our guys healthy and trying to find a way to make a playoff run. … We are 2-3 and 1-1 in the league. Everything we set out to do at the beginning of the year is still a possibility for us.”

Rice said he doesn’t plan to make sweeping changes to the Blue Devil lineup.

“The best 11 players are going to play,” he added. “The good part about the second half of the season is the heat isn’t such an issue. So, we will probably have more guys playing both ways. …”

The new head coach also said he and his staff “plan to keep things as normal as possible” for the players during this transition.

“We are keeping our defense and will do a few different things,” he added. “We are keeping our offense and doing a few different things. But, we are not scrapping either. It has worked at times. We are 2-3. I don’t think we can throw it all out by any means.”

Moving forward, Rice said he believes a “change in culture” is needed for the football program to be successful.

“As someone who played basketball here and was around baseball, those are winning cultures,” he added. “In football, we have to build a winning culture. Another thing we have to do is get kids in third and fourth grade playing football. Right now, they’re really not. … We are going to go to work with the middle school. They are playing in a new league next year and we are excited about that. We are hoping to get them a lot more competitive. …”

Rice said in the offseason he plans to “place a tremendous emphasis” on the weight room.

“We are going to completely change our strength and conditioning program,” he added. “I want to bring in a full-time strength and conditioning coach. That is where a lot of football games are won and lost – from December to July. That is going to be a tremendous focus for us. We are really going to go work.”

Rice led UCHS for the first time on Friday, Sept. 16, at Elizabethton in a 49-18 loss. The team’s bye week is Sept. 23.

The Blue Devils return to action on Friday, Sept. 30, at home against Chuckey-Doak.