The Rice University Owls were back to work and practicing at Memphis University School (MUS), a 122-year-old all-boys college preparatory institution that, like Rice, is about high academics and competitive sport programs. They even share the same team mascot, the Owl.
With only a few practices left before the New Year’s Eve AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Owls’ head football coach David Bailiff said that while the team has enjoyed all the festivities the bowl has provided, focusing on the task at hand is always at the top of the players’ minds.
“Every morning it’s all about football,” he said. “We have our meetings in the morning; we start with special teams and position meetings, and then we hop on a bus (for practice at MUS).”
So far Bailiff likes what he sees. “I was really pleased with how we practiced yesterday after the layoff. I thought we were really sharp.
“The key to our success this season has been taking care of the football and playing great defense,” Bailiff said. “And that’s what we have to do: We have to make sure we help our offense out and get some takeaways, and we need to take care of the football.”
Senior quarterback Tyler McHargue said that the practice has been good for getting back into a good rhythm.
“The first day back yesterday was just about trying to get back acclimated and to get into a rhythm,” McHargue said. “I thought we had a good day. The next two days are really about honing in and getting fine-tuned for the game.”
Some fans, parents and representatives from MUS were on hand to watch McHargue and the Owls practice.
Kyle Finney, offensive coordinator for the MUS football team and assistant baseball coach, was recruited by Jerry Pickle to Delta State University. Pickle, who is Rice’s assistant athletic director for football operations, also coached Finney his freshman year.
“It’s always nice to have a good program like this come to our school,” Finney said. “And it was good to catch up with Coach Pickle and share some stories.”
With Finney was Jim Burnett, an MUS alum (’83) and a current member of the school’s board of trustees.
“We live nearby, and I brought my sons out here,” Burnett said. “They like watching the practices. (In Rice) I see a lot of guys who act very professional, and it seems like they’re having a good time and glad to be here too. It’s great that the coaches – even the head coach (Bailiff) – comes over and talks to everybody. We’re glad that Rice is here, and we’re happy to be hosting the team this week.”
For wide receiver Donte Moore, who is also a senior, practice is also about holding onto memories.
“This last week of practice has just been about enjoying every moment of it,” Moore said. “From being in the locker room listening to music with my teammates – and bouncing around – to coming out here for a morning stretch. (It’s about) enjoying it all and having laughs, because these are the things you’re going to cherish when you’re older. I’m just trying to cherish it all in the moment right now.”
The Rice Owls will play Mississippi State in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl at 3 p.m. Dec. 31. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN. Rice News will be posting daily stories, videos and pictures of the Owls’ adventures in Memphis and game preparations on its Liberty Bowl Central page. A list of alumni watch parties across the country can be found here. If you tweet about the Owls during bowl week, please use the hash tag #RiceFight.