NORTH SIOUX CITY – Standing on the sidelines can be a little rough on Nathan Rice from time to time.
The Dakota Valley senior is a competitor who is always looking to help his team win anyway he can, but since assuming the quarterback responsibilities this season he isn’t seeing the field when the Panthers don’t have the ball.
“I actually started my varsity career strictly on defense,” said Rice. “I was an outside linebacker and I was in love with defense but I trust my teammates. It was difficult because I would like to be out there, but I definitely trust my teammates to get stops.”
Don’t worry, though, Rice is doing plenty when he is on the field. The first-year signal-caller has the top-ranked Class 11A team off to a 2-0 start, including a 57-6 drubbing of Todd County last Friday. Rice ran for 126 on just four carries and three touchdowns to earn the Journal’s Metro Athlete of the Week honor.
“He is a really good athlete bottom line and we have some really good athletes on this team,” Dakota Valley head coach Jeff VanDenHul said. “It is easy to move athletes around and they are going to have success. He is an elite athlete and we wanted to get the ball in his hands.”
Rice grew up loving basketball but found the most success on the gridiron where he said he is fortunate because his talent shines in large part because of God-given ability.
The Panthers run an offense dominated by the run and use Rice’s natural athleticism to give opponents headaches dealing with his speed and vision. The adjustment from running back to quarterback tested Rice, but he certainly seems to be catching on.
“At first it was hard for me because I have never been in that position, obviously,” said Rice, who was a running back or receiver throughout his career prior to this season. “I was used to just having two set plays that I am used to and just running the ball, but I am beginning to enjoy it being able to pass the ball more.
“It is really fun for me because I have options now to do pretty much whatever I want.”
Part of those options includes running back Sam Chesterman who ran for 104 yards against Todd County as a total of six runners had carries in the game.
Rice ran for 222 yards in his team’s impressive 49-32 win over Dell Rapids to open the year, but he has been working on throwing the ball.
“Just a lot of reps,” the 17-year-old said. “Each and every day we do our quick game our quick passes. It’s just a bunch of reps for me to get better at passing.”
It is something the Panthers know they will need after falling to Madison in the state title game a year ago.
“You have to be a little bit multiple and we found out in the championship game that we didn’t have that element in our game so we are striving a little more to get into those sets, get into those areas of the game,” VanDenHul said. “In a one-year span we weren’t able to get it installed. We have two years in this offense now so it is a little easier to tinker.”
That loss was a motivator for Rice and his teammates.
“It is definitely a huge motivator because we always talk about unfinished business,” said Rice, who wants to improve on the numbers he put up last season. “Last year when we made it to state, we obviously wanted to win it but we haven’t been there (since the 2000 title game). We want to get there and finish what we couldn’t last year.”
The Panthers went 11-1 last season and look poised for another strong season for a program that has grown under the leadership of VanDenHul.
“(Success) has come from the weight room because we started to hit the weight room really hard and being with your teammates each and every day,” Rice said. “We have a brotherhood. We have gotten bigger and stronger to win games, but definitely the friendship you get is huge."
Kylee Eickholt, North …. The senior provided 31 kills for a North team that went 4-1 at its own tournament to finish in a tie for second place. The Stars are off to an 8-1 start on the season.
Conner Groves, SB-L .... The senior had had eight catches for 159 yards and two touchdowns as the Warriors rallied past Harlan 34-32.