Landon Rice has wrapped up his own early Christmas gift, courtesy of the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
The 24-year-old Brandonite has signed his first professional contract, for two years plus an option year, a deal he negotiated himself with the Tiger-Cats this month. For the 6-foot-6, 310-pound University of Manitoba Bisons offensive lineman, it’s nothing short of a dream come true to turn pro.
"Playing football in Brandon and watching CFL games with my dad on the weekends, that’s when (the dream) started ... so I’m very excited," Rice said yesterday from Winnipeg, where he is preparing for his final exam of the semester at the U of M before returning home tomorrow for the Christmas break. "It’s always been the dream for, I think, every player. But personally for myself, it has absolutely been my dream the whole time playing with the Bisons and the experience I had with that was great, in and of itself. But to be given the opportunity to keep playing football afterwards is pretty much all I could ask for."
Rice recently completed his fifth and final season of Canadian Interuniversity Sport eligibility with the Bisons and was a free agent before signing with the Tiger-Cats, who hired former Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Kent Austin as their new head coach, general manager and vice-president of football operations on Monday. While terms of his contract weren’t released, Rice said he was happy with the deal.
"I talked to a bunch of guys I know who have been in the CFL and it varies from position to position and from guy to guy, but my understanding is it’s a pretty good rookie deal for me stepping out of CIS," Rice said. "I just hope to come in and contribute to that organization. I think it’s a great team and they just hired a new head coach and I’m just excited to go out there and just live my dream. I’m not really expecting anything to be given to me, so I am just going to work hard to contribute."
A two-year captain at the U of M, Rice red-shirted his first season and officially began his CIS career with the Bisons in their 2007 Vanier Cup winning season. He becomes the first graduate of the Crocus Plainsmen football program to sign a CFL contract since offensive lineman Derek Sholdice, who retired in 1998 as a member of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Rice, who plays left guard, joins Vincent Massey graduates Chris Bauman (Calgary Stampeders) and Israel Idonije (Chicago Bears) as Brandonites in the professional ranks and gives plenty of credit to his former head coach Brian Dobie and the Bisons program.
"Coming out of Brandon in high school, that was seven years ago and now I have become a man and ready to take the next step and the Bisons are a big part of that," Rice said.
Rice, who is completing a four-year Bachelor of Science degree as a biology major with a minor in chemistry, has already started his off-season workout regimen in preparing for his first season with the Tiger-Cats.
"That’s already started, as soon as this past season ended and I was beginning to get into talks with Hamilton, that just spurred me on to work and train even harder," said Rice, who knows that despite signing a contract he still has to make the team in training camp in June. "I know I am not the only guy that they are going to be bringing in, so I am going to start in rookie training camp and try to win a spot. So I am just focused on that."