When Jason Rice was a sophomore in high school, learning the ropes as a quarterback in Palmyra’s program, his offensive coordinator was Matt Nagy.
Yes, that Matt Nagy. Future Chicago Bears head coach and former Manheim Central legend, who was cutting his teeth in the coaching business at the prep level before quickly moving up the ladder to NFL skipper.
“He’s been one of my idols ever since I had the privilege to play under him,” Rice said. “His energy and the way he cares and his overall knowledge about the game of football … it’s just incredible. I was able to soak up stuff like a sponge from him. I learned so much from him, and I expect to bring a lot of the things I learned from him to Northern Lebanon.”
There is a new football sheriff in town in Fredericksburg.
Rice, who went on to play in college for Albright, before making coaching stops at Milton Hershey, Lebanon Valley College and Division III Methodist University in North Carolina, received school board approval this week to become Northern Lebanon’s next head football coach. He takes over for Roy Wall, who guided the Vikings to a 46-65 record over the last 11 years; Northern Lebanon opened up its football coaching position after this past season.
Rice, who is 28, quickly supplanted Hempfield’s 33-year-old George Eager as the Lancaster-Lebanon League’s youngest football coach.
“There are some excellent coaches and some excellent programs in the L-L League,” Rice said. “So I have a lot to live up to. And I have a lot of work ahead of me.”
Rice’s top priority is getting Northern Lebanon out of a three-year funk; after winning three section championships and going to the District Three playoffs three times between 2014 and 2017, the Vikings are just 2-26 overall in the last three seasons.
“First and foremost,” Rice said, “I have to get the guys that are already on board to get bought into this new wave and new energy I hope to bring into the program. It’s tough, because when you go 2-26 over three years, you start to lose that fun feeling. I want to re-instill that.”
Slipping some of Matt Nagy’s plays into the offense is certainly a fun start.
“He made a huge impact on me,” Rice said about Nagy, whom he kept in touch with during his previous coaching stops. Rice was also quick to thank his head coach at Palmyra, Chris Pope, for being such a big influence and for helping him get into coaching.
Out of Albright, Rice spent two years at Milton Hershey, where he coached defensive backs. Then came a two-year stint at Lebanon Valley, where he coached receivers and running backs. Rice’s last stop was a two-year stay at Methodist University in the USA South Conference, where he coached running backs, and he was the head coach and offensive coordinator for the school's junior varsity program.
Rice didn’t coach last fall, and after moving back to the area from Colorado, he got the itch to get back into coaching.
“Northern Lebanon was looking for someone,” he said, “and I fit the bill.”
Rice is employed by Tek Systems, and he resides in Harrisburg. And now he has the keys to Northern Lebanon’s program.
“The L-L League is competitive as all get-out,” Rice said. “I was fortunate to get to play and coach in the Mid-Penn Conference. But there’s no doubt that the L-L League is tough. So we need to start getting ready right now. It’s going to be an every day, every week kind of a situation, so we’re ready to suit up on that first Friday night.
“The entire league is competitive, including the section we’re in. So we need to build up our numbers; Northern Lebanon has a very healthy pool of athletes. Now we need to find those guys and get this going.”