Larry Rice was poised for a big senior season. A running back and defensive back at Minnetonka (Minn.) High School, Rice had received some interest from Wisconsin as a junior and was banking on a big senior season to help propel him into college football.
Then, in one day of summer training, everything changed.
According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Rice was going through one of his strenuous summer workouts when he felt his chest tightening up. After having a physical days later, he was told his "heart rhythm sounded off." After a meeting with a cardiologist, Rice was diagnosed with an anomalous right coronary artery, the same malady that caused Oregon running back Hayward Demison to suffer a heart attack after a touchdown run last Friday (though Demison's left artery had constricted blood flow, not his right artery).
Rice underwent open-heart surgery shortly after the diagnosis to correct the condition. While the procedure was considered a success, Rice has to deal with a number of uncomfortable side effects. Prescription drugs he is forced to take have dramatically thrown off his sleep cycle, sometimes causing him to wake up when some night owls are only getting to bed. He can't fully lay down on his back because of discomfort with his mending sternum. Most seriously, a buildup of fluid and inflammation around Rice's heart landed him back in the hospital last weekend for the first time since the operation.
While Rice is recovering, he lost his entire senior season as a result of the heart condition. Now, while his teammates move on, Rice is trying to remain grateful for being alive and not disappointed that he's missing out on what he expected would be the most important season of his football career.
"I'm glad this was caught," Rice told the Star-Tribune. "My family and friends tell me, 'God has a plan for you.' It's hard not to believe that, but some days I have doubts."
One of the ways Rice has remained upbeat is by keeping a connection with the team. He was featured in the front row of the team's annual photo, seated as one of the team captains, and his teammates are wearing decals with his number 12 on the back of their helmets all season. The expected two-way starter missed the team's season-opening loss, but returned for Minnetonka's 27-0 rout of Osseo in Week 2, inspiring teammates with his presence.
"It meant a lot to have him there," Minnetonka coach Dave Nelson told the Star-Tribune.
Rice was glad to be there, too, though he he told the Star-Tribune he's still coming to grips with the fact that he isn't on the field himself.
"I was really excited because of the success they had in the game," Rice said. "We are back to the team everyone thought we'd be. I just wish I could have been out there."