After NFL star running back Ray Rice spent Saturday morning racing up and down the turf at Joseph F. Fosina Field with hundreds of kids, the New Rochelle native said he's on a mission to teach a new generation that dedication and teamwork can make them all champions.
Rice, No. 27 for the 2012 Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, was greeted with screams of excitement as he ran onto the field to open the 2013 Ray Rice Day -- a free event that attracted about 800 children for games, instruction and, of course, autographs.
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"I'm very proud of him as a football player, but I'm more proud of Ray for the man that he has become," said 20-year New Rochelle High School football coach Lou DiRienzo. "Hopefully, the kids will get his message that it's possible to achieve your dreams."
Organized by the Ray Rice Charitable Fund, a similar event takes place each year in Baltimore.
"For me, this is my Super Bowl," the 26-year-old running back said after finishing a round of football drills and posing for photos. "I won a ring, but this is my Super Bowl coming back to New Rochelle and doing this for these kids."
At just 5-foot-8, 212 pounds, Rice said that hard work -- on the field and in the classroom -- were essential for him to succeed.
"No one came here today to win or lose," said Rice, stressing that the morning's events were designed to encourage teamwork. "They are all winners. This is something, as a kid, I wish I had when I was growing up. It's important for the kids to see where I was able to get with hard work.
"For me, it's also all about the relationships you build along the way."
As parents watched from the sidelines while their children played, they could see the impact Rice -- and his message -- was having on the young participants.
"All these kids are playing together like they know each other," said Jennifer Camren of New Rochelle, whose sons Ryan, 7, and Jonathan, 9, were on the field. "They don't go to the same schools, but today they are all playing together and having a good time."
Nate Olivieri, 8, of New Rochelle attended the 2012 Ray Rice Day event in New Rochelle and set his alarm clock for 6 a.m. so he would be on time for Saturday's 9 a.m. event.
Nate's father, Hector Olivieri, said his son has been following Rice in the NFL and was anxious to see him in person.
"It's our jobs as parents now to make the children understand what they've learned here today on the field," Olivieri said.
New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson said Rice has become beloved in the city, but for more than just his accomplishments in football.
"You can see it in all the faces here today at the field," Bramson said. "Ray continues to make a tremendous contribution to New Rochelle."