Commentary

Janet Rice is Ray's Super inspiration

New Rochelle product's journey to the NFL's pinnacle is inspired by his mother

Updated: January 31, 2013, 9:32 PM ET
By Kieran Darcy | ESPNNewYork.com

Janet Rice, Ray RiceESPN.com"Words cannot even explain what I feel on the inside," Janet Rice told ESPN NY. "It's just joy. Joy."

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. -- On the Wednesday before Super Bowl XLVII, Janet Rice -- mother of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice -- wasn't in New Orleans, basking in her son's glory.

No, she was at Isaac E. Young Middle School in New Rochelle, N.Y., just like any other Wednesday, doing her job as a teacher's aide, working with children with special needs.

If you're wondering why Janet is still working at all, let alone this week, after Ray signed a five-year, $40 million contract this past summer, here's the answer.

[+] EnlargeRay Rice
AP Photo/George OlivarJanet Rice became something of a celebrity among Scarlet Knights fans during Ray's time at Rutgers.

"It's something that I enjoy doing -- I have a passion for what I do," Janet said during a lunch-break interview. "Ray even asked me, 'Ma, I would like you to stop.' But I told him, 'Ray, I can't stop right now. Because I enjoy coming to work, working with these kids.'"

Janet has served as an inspiration for Ray, one of the great underdog stories in recent NFL history.

As documented on "E:60" last fall, Ray's father, Calvin Reed, was killed when Ray was just 1 year old, the unintended victim of a drive-by shooting. Ten years later, Myshaun Rice-Nichols -- a cousin who had served as a father figure for Ray in the years since -- died in a car accident, struck by a drunk driver, in 1998.

Janet raised Ray and her three other children on her own in The Hollows, a housing project in New Rochelle. And she says she knew very early that Ray was going to do special things.

"My pregnancy with Ray was very unusual," Janet said. "Ray kicked all the time at night. I never got any sleep. Ray was born six weeks early, at 5 pounds, 11 ounces, and it was like he was running on the inside -- that's what it felt like.

"I knew then that something was different."

At 2 years of age, Ray was already riding a two-wheel bike, without training wheels. At 7, he started playing tackle football -- and ran so hard that he was injuring other kids unintentionally.

He was an all-state running back for New Rochelle High School, but was still lightly recruited because of his size (5-foot-8). He went to nearby Rutgers, and finished as the school's all-time leading rusher, despite leaving a year early for the NFL draft. The Ravens selected him with their second-round pick, 55th overall, in 2008.

In five NFL seasons, Rice has rushed for more than 1,000 yards four times, and made three Pro Bowls. In 2011 he led the NFL in total yards from scrimmage, with 2,068. This year, he rushed for 1,143 yards and nine touchdowns in the regular season, and leads the league in rushing yards in the postseason, with 247.

"Everything he has set out, his goals, he has accomplished," Janet said. "And now making it to the Super Bowl is an even bigger accomplishment."

Janet and Ray are very close, and say they speak every single day. Ray typically calls in the morning before the school day starts. Tuesday was a rare exception -- Ray couldn't call until the afternoon, because of Super Bowl media day obligations.

"He's having the time of his life," Janet said. "He said he wouldn't go [to the Super Bowl] unless he was playing in one. It's a real exciting time for both of us."

Janet received hugs and congratulations everywhere she walked on Wednesday. Ray actually attended Isaac E. Young, so the students and faculty are very excited.

Just down the street, at Trinity Elementary School, which Ray also attended, the entire school building is decorated, inside and out, with signs and posters wishing Ray and the Ravens good luck.

[+] EnlargeJanet Rice
Kieran Darcy/ESPNJanet says she and Ray talk every day, usually in the morning before she heads to work.

The school is going to shoot a video message for Ray, with footage of the decorations, and e-mail it to him before the game.

"Ray has come to the school over the years to speak about character education, sportsmanship and the importance of a good education," said Anthony DiCarlo, the principal at Trinity Elementary. "We are so proud of his accomplishments and being a role model for students around the country."

Janet was scheduled to fly down to New Orleans on Thursday morning, along with her three other children and her nephew. But the excitement won't end with the Super Bowl. In the next two weeks, she'll also be moving into her new house -- a gift from Ray. Janet says she has never lived in a house in her entire life. "It's a dream come true," she said.

As for teaching, Janet isn't sure how many more years she'll continue to work full-time.

"Even when I do decide [to retire], I'm gonna volunteer my time," she said. "I want to travel the world, and work with these kind of kids. Go into classrooms, and even just tell my story. About me growing up as a single parent.

"You can be anything you want to be in life, I would tell these kids. The key word? Just stay focused. I don't care what type of disability you have, or whatever it is, you can do it."

Her eldest son has certainly defied the odds. He stands at the pinnacle of his profession, three days away from the playing in the biggest game in American sports.

Win or lose, he has made his mother very proud.

"Words cannot even explain what I feel on the inside," Janet said. "It's just joy. Joy. It's all I can say."

Kieran Darcy is an ESPNNewYork.com staff writer. He joined ESPN in August 2000 after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, where he played four years of JV basketball.
Follow Kieran on Twitter »

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