By Harry Minium

Nick Rice already has a degree in business marketing from Old Dominion University. He is scheduled walk across the stage at Chartway Arena on Saturday to pick up his second diploma, a Bachelor of Arts in business management.

However, Rice has more pressing business. He is the placekicker for ODU's football team, which meets Tulsa in the Myrtle Beach Bowl on Dec. 20.

As ODU graduates are crossing the stage, Rice will be in South Carolina preparing for the game. And since this is the first bowl for ODU since Rice began playing, it's no surprise that he'd rather be with his football teammates.

Jeff Tanner, dean and professor of marketing in the Strome College of Business, said Rice is much more than a good football player. He calls Rice one of the brightest and hardest-working students he's taught.

"He's one of those special students who happens to be an athlete and a special athlete who happens to be a student," Tanner said.

Rice plans to enter the rough-and-tumble world of sales, and candidly, he would not be playing football for ODU had he not been a salesman par excellence as a high school senior.

Although he had a good career at Plant High in St. Petersburg, Florida, he had no major college scholarship offers entering the final semester of his senior year.

A week before national signing day in February 2017, a placekicker reneged on his commitment to ODU and signed with Georgia Tech. That's when Rice's sales ability kicked in.

"I messaged everyone from ODU I could find," he said. He sold himself by sending kicking videos and testimonials from coaches.

Not until April did ODU bring him on an official visit and offer him a scholarship. He enrolled at ODU a week later.

Had ODU not made an offer, Rice said he planned give up football and enroll at the University of South Florida.

That would have been a shame both for Rice and for ODU. He's been a four-year starter who is the Monarchs' all-time leader in field goals with 63 and this year kicked 19 to break his own single-season record.

Tanner said he will be just as successful in the business world. He met Rice in the fall of 2020 when he was teaching a senior-level sales management class.

"I'm pretty candid with our students that it's going to be a very challenging and perhaps frustrating course," he said. "It's more like a graduate-level course. It includes a lot of case studies. Students have to write their own cases and get involved in the field."

A majority of students withdrew, including a business honors student, before the mid-term.

"We had a very small class when everybody left," Tanner said. "But Nick stuck with it.

"I found that nothing seemed to bother him, which comes as no surprise from a placekicker. His highs weren't very high and his lows not very low. He was always prepared and had a lot of good insight to offer."

Rice also volunteered to help with the 757 Recovery & Resilience Action Framework project with the Hampton Roads Alliance, which has worked to document which companies managed to do well during the pandemic. The study is being conducted in part by ODU graduate students.

"Nick raised his hand and wanted to do this," Tanner said. "He was conducting multiple interviews of executives of companies in the region. He wrote a paper on each one of those and participated on regular team calls with faculty and other students involved in the project.

"He's one of those guys who's really smart and unassuming and quiet but not shy. Candidly, I found him just a joy to work with. I was really glad he wanted to join that team and I was even happier with his work."

Rice nominated Tanner to be ODU's Game Day Professor; the football team honors one professor before every home game. Tanner appeared on the field before ODU's game against Louisiana Tech on Oct. 30, which the Monarchs won on Rice's last-second, 46-yard field goal.

As Tanner walked back to his car to get a coat and realized Rice's parents had a parking space only steps away from him. He introduced himself to Brian and Cindy Rice.

Brian, it turns out, is a successful salesman.

"It was so affirming to meet them," Tanner said. "They thanked me and told me that ODU has been so good for Nick. It was easy to be a good professor when you have students like Nick because he does his share.

"He's going to be very successful."

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