St Kilda Saints Training Session
GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 15: Bailey Rice handballs during a St Kilda Saints AFL training session at Metricon Stadium on June 15, 2018 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Former Saint Bailey Rice has secured a full-ride scholarship to the University of North Carolina as a punter for the Charlotte 49ers.

Rice, who is the son of former St Kilda and Carlton player Dean Rice, played 11 games for the Saints in four years before being delisted at the end of 2019.

Speaking exclusively to Zero Hanger,Β Rice admitted he had his eyes on a move abroad for some time now.

“I’ve always had an interest in American Football, it was probably towards the end of my last year (in the AFL), the writing was kind of on the wall (at St Kilda).

“I was either getting delisted or getting a one-year deal, but it’s always been something on the back of my mind, even in my four year (at St Kilda) I’ve always gone to America in my off-season to watch some games.”

Rice is an avid Pittsburgh Steelers fan and says his love of the six-time Super Bowl champions came about by watching many Aussies watching from home.

“I’ve been a fan from before I got drafted, it came purely from watching them on TV and playing as them on Madden.”

Rice has been aided in his bid for a new career by Punt Factory Australia, a company who trains want-to-be punters and helps them land a spot in college football.

“They were a massive help, I was working with Jy Bond, he was my coach here in Melbourne. But there’s a few more that have been a massive help.”

The Punt Factory Operations/Recruiting Director Dwayne Armstrong – who spent a couple of years at Essendon under Kevin Sheedy – spoke to Zero Hanger about Rice’s development and the role they played in his move to Charlotte.

“We want to make sure the kids cross their T’s and dot their I’s, focus on getting a degree. It’s ok to get to the NFL but unlike Ben Graham and Saverio Rocca who didn’t go to college because of their age, it’s the pinnacle for kids.

“They (players) have to fit the mould of right school for the right person.”

Armstrong believes Rice has a big future over in the States.

“Bailey has the pedigree in him, he’s a fast learner. Just from his athletic ability we knew he could get flipped right away.

“Jy Bond said listen, ‘I can teach him and get him up to scratch in 2-3 months’.Β I was like wow! Really? When the school saw him they were like ‘Oh my god, this kid hasn’t been punting for long?’

“The beautiful thing is he could hit a spiral, the drop punt is great in college but in the NFL you need to hit spirals.

Armstrong said there was no shortage of interest in Rice too.

“There were a few schools that liked him but he got online with North Carolina and said this is best for me and my education.

“I expect his second and third years to be where he starts making moves, it takes time to get acclimatised to college life. If he does well as a freshman that’s really great but usually it takes the guys one or two years.”

Rice chose Carolina over Fresno State in California and said he has been sold on the lifestyle in Charlotte and chose them after they were the first college to contact him.

“From the start I’ve been speaking to the special teams coach there and we’ve been talking pretty much every day, Charlotte is one of the fastest growing cities in America so the guys (from The Punt Factory) have said it’s a great city to live in and play football in.

“They were the ones who offered first so I thought i’d commit to them straight away.”

Rice opened up about how his passion for footy dwindled after touring America in his off-seasons.

“It was probably going over to America in my off-seasons, going over and watching games and watching Arryn Sippos.

“I went over and watched him play against Mississippi State, it’s (college football) an unbelievable atmosphere. I’ve always loved going over to America and their lifestyle.

“That’s probably why my passion for AFL drifted, but also my form, it wasn’t great towards the end.”

Rice may be on the move as early as next month, all things going well. He needs to jump through some COVID-19 hoops but is hopeful of making it over for Spring training.

“I was originally going to be going over in June, which is the start of the school year. But I found out yesterday I could be going over next month.

“I have to go to the US consulate and they send me a form, then I have to get a visa which I’ll have to do pretty much right now.

“Then I’d get an exemption to fly out of Australia, so if it is January I have to get a move on because there’s a few things to get done.”

The former father-son selection said his father Dean has been incredibly supportive as well.

“I’ve always been telling him about my love for college football, he’s supportive of anything I do. The whole family is, Mum as well. He’s pretty keen to come over as well when he can.”

The 49ers have given Rice a huge show of faith offering him the starting punter position immediately given he is admittedly not the finished product yet.

“I’ve been told i’ll be starting straight away, I’ll be the starting punter which is good. It’s about me being consistent really, it’s a lot different to kicking an aussie rules footy.

“I’m hitting 5 out of 10 good balls at the moment, I need to get that up to 8 out of 10. There’s a sweet spot you need to hit consistently.

“I haven’t tried on any pads yet or a helmet yet though, I also haven’t had any guys running at me while I’m kicking yet.”