By Scott T. Sterling
With football season 2014 in full swing, fans across the country are donning team jerseys, hitting tailgate parties and packing bars to cheer their favorite teams onto victory (when they’re not checking fantasy football stats, of course).
Among those voracious gridiron faithful includes country star Chase Rice, who was on the verge of being an NFL player after making a name for himself as a standout linebacker for the North Carolina Tar Heels between the years 2005-2008.
“I played under Butch Davis, John Bunting and Chuck Pagano, who’s now the head coach of the (Indianapolis) Colts, so I still stay in touch with all those guys,” Rice explained during an exclusive interview with Radio.com. “Football would’ve been my life, if I wouldn’t have got hurt. The NFL was a very, very attainable goal. Then I ended up getting hurt, and that’s when I started writing songs and haven’t looked back since.”
Indeed, as Rice has risen quickly up the ranks of country music’s elite with three full-length albums under his belt (including the recently released Ignite the Night) and a co-writing credit on Florida Georgia Line’s smash hit “Cruise.”
While Chase proclaimed that he’s “always going to be a Tar Heel,” the Florida native grew up as a dedicated fan of the University of Florida Gators football team, which was something of a family tradition.
“The NFL is great, I’ll watch it, but college football is my thing,” he admitted. “The Florida Gators was my team growing up. My dad’s best friend was a running back for them back in the day. The Gators were life down in Daytona Beach, Florida, and that was where I grew up.”
Rice also has quite a history in the world of NASCAR, having spent substantial time in the pit crews for Ryan Newman and perennial champion Jimmie Johnson before his music career took off.
“I worked at Hendrick Motorsports,” Rice elaborated. “Basically, when I was done with football, my coach from Carolina moved there to start bringing athletes to work in the pit crew to see if they could make the pit stops faster. He brought me in with nine other guys, trained us and those guys are still there winning championships with Jimmie (Johnson). I ended up opting out to do music full time.”
Rice won’t have a lot of time to watch football or NASCAR over the coming months, with the singer on an extensive Ignite the Night U.S. tour that runs right up to the holidays, with stops everywhere from Nacogdoches , TX, to New York City (see his complete tour itinerary here).
Watch the full video interview above to see Rice discuss how he think he’d do as a NASCAR racer, the Eminem song that always gets him pumped up and more.