When Bearden baseball coach John Rice started his days at Bearden in 2013, the program had just come off a postseason run that saw their season end in a state championship game loss.
With a lot to prove, Coach Rice knew the loads of talent that the Bearden program had to offer; however, he knew that in order to succeed in the long run he needed to develop something greater than the game itself.
“The relationships are the most integral part of coaching,” Coach Rice said. “You can get kids to move mountains for you if they trust what you’re doing and that you’re doing it for their best interest.
“That foundation has been laid with this senior class which is my first class.”
Coach Rice’s first class that he has coached all four years includes six seniors – Brady Duncan, Tyson Beach, Paul Underwood, Sean Walsh, Bryson Ford, and Caleb Galik – all of which have seen major time on varsity this year.
The Bulldogs (21-9, 9-3 District 4-AAA) have finished with more than 20 wins overall and 10 wins in District 4-AAA the past three years, and with a home victory on senior night tonight at 6 p.m. against William Blount (9-16, 2-9), they could accomplish that mark once again.
With the number of wins his program has posted over the past four years, Coach Rice knows the talent that his team has, but he expects even more than the talent each of his players has.
“[Coach Rice] has really done a good job of building a good sense of what a team is and how to be a good teammate,” Bearden assistant coach Jack Tate said. “He has got the team to play really well together and a lot out of the talent that this team truly has.
“I am excited for where this program is heading.”
Coach Tate also points out that Coach Rice has created one unified Bearden program – doing an excellent job showing importance to the junior varsity and varsity teams.
Another aspect that Coach Rice has brought to the Bearden program is expecting his players to constantly compete against themselves and not the name on the jersey of the other team.
“At some point, to be successful on your own right, you have to measure yourself on yourself and not against some third party,” Coach Rice said. “Baseball is more of a game where you play against the game itself, which is very similar to golf.
“In golf, whoever wins this weekend’s tournament is playing against many other competitors, but realistically they’re playing against the best version of themselves. Our guys have really taken it to heart that we are playing against a ball and a game and we really have to strive to compete at a high level all the time.”
From a player’s perspective, Coach Rice has also emphasized a certain work ethic that players not only adhere to, but also try to exceed.
“Coach Rice really pushes us to do our best in practice and instills a good work ethic,” Walsh said. “In games, he really has us focused on the challenge ahead of us and not playing the other team but really doing our best to not beat ourselves.”
As the season winds down, Coach Rice knows that his team has the potential to make it far in the postseason, but wherever his team finishes, he will still be proud of what this team has helped establish for the Bearden program.
“I told them that our season is going to end this year and maybe it ends on a win in the state championship game,” Coach Rice said. “99% of teams end their season with a loss and no matter how our season ends it won’t be a disappointment to me.
“I told them this at the very beginning of the season because it is going to be fun, and that is where the relationship part of it really matters because it makes our time together fun. A baseball season is long and when you don’t have that bond or relationships then those can be a lot of really boring and grinding hours. When you are with a group of guys who cares for each other and its coaches, it makes it go by fast. The season feels like it opened up the other day, and now it is the end of it.”