Adjusting to living in a new country is isn't Adjusting to a new sport is also isn't easy but it has been an exciting opportunity Charlotte football punter Bailey Rice has welcomed with open arms.
The 24-year-old just finished his first year playing organized football, coming from Australia to Charlotte, NC.
As a kid growing up in Australia, Rice played Australian-rules football, otherwise known as rugby. He played rugby for a large portion of his life. His father also played in the Australian rule football league, so Rice has always been close to the sport.
"My dad played professional Aussie rules football, so I grew up playing it, and I was lucky enough to get drafted and play professionally straight out of high school at 18," said Rice.
"That was a surreal experience with the crowds there and the crowds here. It's not new, but it's a completely different experience. It's a cool sport not many people know about in America, but I'm sure if they give it a chance, they would like it," he added.
Rice played four years in the league, playing 11 games with the St. Kilda Saints in 2018, which is where his father played 100 games in his career. Rice was selected as a father-son selection in the 2015 national draft at pick 49. It was destiny for Rice to come and play for the 49ers after that draft pick.
"I didn't really think much about it until somebody told me about it. So it's pretty funny, and it seems like it was something meant to happen," Rice said with a chuckle.
As for Rice making the change from rugby to football, he got the chance to see a familiar friend beforehand.
"I played for four years, and when I was 22, I got cut from Australian rules football," said Rice. So I had a mate who played at Auburn, Aaron Siposs. He punts for the Philadelphia Eagles now. So I came to America when I was around 23 or 22 and went to Auburn. I watched him punt, and that got me interested."
After that, he went back to Australia interested in being a punter and playing football and trained with The Punt Factory Australia.
"They had just started up in Australia, and they got all these new guys. The Coach that I worked with, Aaron Perez, was great, and there were also four other coaches," mentioned Rice. "It is like an academy, they have competitions, and you work on your technique, and they help you get scouted by teams here."
Once he got recruited to play here at Charlotte, Rice was excited to finally play. He had seen it on TV but being able to experience it in person is different and exciting for Rice.
"I was more excited about experiencing college football life," said Rice about making the change. "It's televised a lot back home, so to be able to play the game that I was watching at home is nice, and also creating new relationships with people and making some awesome friends out here is surreal, to be honest."
Though there were some things he had to get used to, Rice had never played in a helmet and shoulder pads. As a result, he had to overcome a sharp learning curve.
"I had already experienced it back home with The Punt Factory working with pads and helmets you can put on," said Rice. "Obviously different than the Aussie rule with the collision, but you still have big collisions in this too. The pads can restrict you with your ball drop and the helmet with your vision," mentioned Rice.
"Something I do miss is tackling. I did that a lot back home. But growing up, all I used to do is kick the ball," said Rice.
"I know that Americans here like throwing and doing different positions like punting and kicking. That is sometimes available here at colleges because they want someone that kicks, and that was my strength," laughed Rice.
Rice has been able to adjust well to the new environment that he is in. As a first-year, he has goals going forward like all athletes.
"To just keep improving. The first year is all about improving, really. The end goal is to try and make the NFL, but I gotta take that year after year. Then academics and coming out with a degree cause not everyone gets drafted," said Rice.
In just one year playing American football, Rice has found success. He averaged 42.3 yards per punt during the 2021 season on 40 attempts. Four of Rice's punts have been over 50 yards, and his longest of the season totaled 65 yards.
He may be one of the oldest players on the roster, but Rice has plenty of time to achieve his dreams of making it to the next level as he has three years of eligibility left.