COLUMBIA, S.C. - As South Carolina's Steve Spurrier and Kentucky's Rich Brooks chatted on the field before their game Saturday, Brooks brought up a player that caught his attention during the week's preparations.
"That No. 4 you've got has a chance to be a special player," Brooks told Spurrier.
Yes, Spurrier, concurred, freshman Sidney Rice does have that chance.
Rice spent the rest of the game proving Brooks' words.
Rice caught touchdowns of 27 and 8 yards, had a career best eight catches for 125 yards and generally got open practically whenever he wanted in South Carolina's 44-16 victory against Kentucky on Saturday.
Spurrier likes what he has seen in his first-year player. But he's not ready to throw him alongside the NFL-calibre pass catchers he had at Florida like Ike Hillard, Reidel Anthony or Travis McGriff.
"Sidney is a good player," Spurrier said. "Don't give him too much praise. He is a freshman, kind of come out of nowhere to be one of our best players.... It won't bother Sidney. He's a down-to-earth player."
Rice does not seem affected by the attention that comes with being the breath of fresh air on an offense generally battling through smog. He politely answers, "Yes, sir" and "No, sir" when addressing reporters.
Asked if he's South Carolina's "go-to" receiver in his first year, he defers the spotlight. "I can't say that, that's for others to say."
So far, everyone, including Brooks has said it already.
Brooks said Rice knows how to use his 6-foot-4 height to take advantage of defenders. "He's got good speed and he's got great body control," Brooks said. "Obviously he's a basketball player and knows how to position his body and make the catch.... We knew that he would be a go-to guy and he was."
The Wildcats (1-4, 0-2) did their part to help South Carolina with fumbles on three-straight possessions, one that safety Ko Simpson returned for a touchdown. Simpson also had an interception to set up another a touchdown in Spurrier's first SEC victory since taking over at South Carolina.
The revelation, though, was the continued stellar play of Rice.
He's got a touchdown in all five games he has played in this season, tying the school mark set by Jermale Kelly in 1997.
The scary thing for Kentucky is things could've been worse. Rice had a touchdown taken away in the first half because of a penalty. Spurrier said Rice was open a couple of more times, but the Gamecocks couldn't get him the ball.
It looks like Rice has quickly become the favorite receiver for sophomore quarterback Blake Mitchell. "Why not?" Mitchell said. "You see what he's done so far."
Rice was considered one of the state's top football prospects coming out of Gaffney High two years ago. He also was a key player on his high school basketball team that went 28-0 his senior season.
Rice might have gotten a quicker start at South Carolina, but he suffered a knee injury during pregame warmups against Georgia and needed most of the season to recover. Rice also didn't play in Spurrier's debut game against Central Florida, recovering from a broken pinkie finger.
But Rice isn't concerned about whether he'll eventually make the NFL like all those Florida stars. He would love to have more performances like this and keep his touchdown streak going as long as he can. "Right now, I'm trying to do whatever the coaches ask me to do," he said.
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