The former Pacelli High School standout was in a two-man competition with redshirt junior Nick Ens for the job before he emerged as the starter for Drake, which finished 8-3 overall and won a share of its second consecutive Pioneer Football League (PFL) Title last season.
Rice, who will be a redshirt sophomore, was set to make his starting debut in Drake’s season opener against NAIA Grand View (Iowa) at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 29, in Des Moines, Iowa.
“I’ve been working hard at it, and it was a great competition this last spring and fall,” said Rice. “Obviously, I’m really excited to be able to get out there.”
“We had two really talented quarterbacks who were vying for the starting position, and it’s always been a really tight gap between those two,” said Drake football head coach Chris Creighton. “But Andy just has really mastered the offense.
“Getting into the right plays is so important offensively, and he can do that for us,” said Creighton.
Rice was the starting quarterback for Pacelli in 2009 and 2010, as the Cardinals went 10-2 and fell to eventual State Champion Edgar in the WIAA Division 6 Level 3 Playoffs in both seasons.
He was rated as the best Division 6 player in the state by Wisconsin Sports Magazine entering his senior season at Pacelli, where he went on to complete 177-of-271 passes (65 percent) for 2,407 yards, with 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions as a senior, and finished with the second-best completion percentage and the third-most passing yards in the state.
Rice finished his career as the all-time leading passer in Pacelli history and set five other school passing marks, while he was named the Central Wisconsin Conference-8 Player of the Year and an honorable mention All-State selection in his final year.
“Andy had a fantastic career,” said Pacelli football head coach Steve Raczek. “I think he still holds pretty much every passing record we have here, and he was a leader.
“I’ve always felt that if he put his mind to it, he could accomplish anything he wanted to,” said Raczek.
“I had a lot of great coaching at Pacelli,” said Rice. “The big thing that I always think back on, was how much Pacelli taught me to work extremely hard.
“There was a lot of talk back then that we were the most conditioned team in the state, and we worked extremely hard,” said Rice. “And that definitely has transferred over to (Drake), so that’s helped me a lot.”
After choosing to play football at Drake, Rice redshirted during the 2011 season, and then spent his redshirt freshman season last fall as the top backup to four-year starter Mike Piatkowski, the school’s all-time leading passer.
In limited action, Rice completed 4-of-9 passes for 52 yards, with no touchdowns and no interceptions, in four games last season.
“It was definitely different,” said Rice of watching for most of the last two seasons. “In high school, when you’re not playing varsity, you’re playing freshman or JV ball.
“(On the scout team) you just judge yourself by if you’re scoring touchdowns on the starting defense or not,” said Rice.
“We got to see a glimpse of him last year for 10 minutes in the third quarter of our San Diego game, which was one of our biggest games of the year,” said Creighton of an eventual 38-10 Drake victory. “The game was really tight at that time and he played and really did well, so we’re excited about seeing him roll.”
Through spring practice and into the start of fall practice this month, Rice was in a battle with redshirt junior Nick Ens for the starting spot, although Rice took the majority of snaps with the No. 1 offense.
With just over two weeks to go until the season opener, Rice was named the starting quarterback during the second week of fall practice, as he will take over an offense that averaged 29 points per game and 287.4 passing yards per game over the last two seasons.
“That’s definitely really exciting,” said Rice. “Coach Creighton gives me the opportunity to check us into the right play.
“‘Hitting the person that’s open’ is coach’s big philosophy, and there’s always someone open,” said Rice. “And it’s a lot of fun throwing the ball, obviously.”
“He just throws a beautiful ball,” said Creighton. “He’s accurate and has a really strong arm, and the guys on the team really like him.
“He’s worked really hard and the guys believe in him, and those are some of the reasons why he’s our starter,” said Creighton.
Drake returns 12 starters from last year and will look to claim its third consecutive Conference Title, as this season will be the first time that the winner of the PFL will receive an automatic bid to the FCS Tournament.
“We’ve got three returning All-PFL players (on offense): a wide receiver, a tight end and an offensive lineman,” said Rice. “They’ve been out on the field for a couple of years, and just talking with them and knowing what they see out there is going to be a huge help.
“And as far as the playoffs, we’re always talking about winning the Conference Championship,” said Rice. “And this is just an extra incentive to go out there and work really hard for it and make it to the playoffs.”
“Andy’s our starting quarterback and we have high expectations as a team,” said Creighton. “We’re back-to-back champions and are picked not to win the league this year, and I know our guys want to prove people wrong and make it a three-peat and take that first automatic bid to the National Playoffs.”
After the season opener Thursday, Drake plays at Northern Iowa at 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7, in Cedar Rapids, which is a roughly four-hour drive from Stevens Point and is the closest Rice will play to his hometown this season.
Radio station KRNT 1350 AM in Des Moines will broadcast Drake football games live on its website 1350krnt.com, while live video of the games can be seen at godrakebulldogs.com, where a 24-hour pass costs $4.95 and a four-month subscription is $29.95.
As for the first start of his college career, Rice was expecting to have some familiar faces in the crowd, as a number of family and friends planned to be in attendance, including his parents, Todd Rice and Cathy Hardt.
“I know a ton of people are making plans to come down, and I just really appreciate all of the love and support I’ve gotten from back home,” said Rice. “I’ve had people calling me the last couple of weeks and talking about getting tickets, and it’s been kind of a whirlwind.
“We get a couple of tickets to give to family and friends, and I definitely have more people than tickets I can get,” said Rice. “But I’m really excited that people want to come and I’m looking forward to seeing them.”
2013 Drake University Football Schedule
Thursday, Aug. 29, vs. Grand View (Iowa), 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 7, at Northern Iowa, 4 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 21, vs. Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 28, at Mercer, noon
Saturday, Oct. 5, vs. Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 12, at Davidson, noon
Saturday, Oct. 19, at Butler, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 26, vs. Valparaiso, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 2, vs. Morehead State (Ky.), 1 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 9, vs. Dayton, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 16, at San Diego, 3 p.m.