Team goals often mean personal sacrifice. Ask University of Virginia running back Antonio Rice.
Two years ago, when the Cavaliers were 2-9, Rice, a graduate of McKinley Tech in Washington, D.C., placed second in the Atlantic Coast Conference balloting for rookie of the year. His 764 rushing yards were a school freshman record. This year, Rice stands last among the four regular Virginia runners with 62 yards on 22 carries, a 2.8-yard average.
The Cavaliers, though, improved from that 2-9 mark in George Welsh's first year as coach to 6-5 in 1983. Virginia is 3-1 heading into Saturday's game with Duke in Durham, N.C. If the Cavaliers have a second successive winning season, it would be the first time in three decades.
"We all have to make sacrifices for the team," Rice said recently. "I'll do anything to help out -- fullback, linebacker, water boy. Anything to get in that win column."
Rice's sacrifices began last season, when Welsh's group of dependable running backs grew to five. He split time at tailback at the start of the season with redshirt freshman Howard Petty of Annapolis. When Rice broke his right forearm against the helmet of a Virginia Military player in the seventh game, Barry Word took his place, teaming with Petty and fullbacks Derrick Jenkins and Steve Morse.
Petty broke Rice's freshman rushing record. Jenkins graduated, leaving three tailbacks and one fullback. The inevitable change came. Rice, 6 feet 1 and 206 pounds, was shifted to fullback as practice began in the spring.
"For a while there things seemed to be going downhill," Rice said. "I knew I was a good running back and I knew I could help the team, but I felt I had let the team, Coach Welsh and myself down.
"My initial reaction (to the position change) was that I was highly disappointed. But we were coming off a great season, going 6-5, and I realized there was no room for selfishness. If (running backs) Coach (Ken) Mack told me to, I'd play guard." That is the attitude Welsh expects. "He'd probably rather be a tailback, but we ask a lot of guys to do things like that to help the team," he said of Rice.
All running backs must sacrifice individual statistics in Mack's time-sharing plan. Petty and Morse start behind sophomore quarterback Kevin Ferguson and play for two series. Word and Rice then enter and play two series, and the pattern generally continues throughout the game.
"He (Mack) knows we all want to play and tries to give us equal time," Rice said. "But what keeps us together the most is that we want to win."
The system does allow for individual heroics, as witnessed by Morse's 113 yards on 11 carries against VMI. As a lone tailback, Petty would likely have gone over the 100-yard mark as well against Navy after a 54-yard carry in the first quarter. Splitting time with Word, however, Petty carried only 11 other times and wound up with 87 yards, whch put him over the 1,000-yard mark in his career.
The Cavaliers have been productive in the last three games, averaging 218 yards rushing. The running game has yet to show game-long consistency, probably owing to inexperience on the right side of the offensive line, but Virginia backs gained better than four yards every time they carried the ball in the last three games.
Rice's lack of productivity doesn't concern Welsh. "He's playing fullback for the first time in his life, and things look different at fullback than they do at tailback," he said. "We'll play him just like we planned. He needs playing time at fullback, and he deserves to play."
"I'm pretty content," Rice said, smiling once again. "I guess I'm fortunate. I'm one of the few Americans who love their job."