Last September, Darius Tice’s collegiate career appeared to be over.
With USF trailing 45-14 in the third quarter against FSU on Sept. 24, Tice went to ground to receive a low pass from Quinton Flowers.
In his slide to catch the ball, Tice’s right leg got caught under his body, causing his 210 pounds of body weight to force down on his ankle, fracturing it and ending his season.
The senior running back worried if he would ever be able to suit up for USF again.
“I was afraid,” Tice said. “I didn’t want my college career to end like that. I didn’t really know what was even going to happen at that point. I was laying down on the bed thinking, ‘Dang, this is for real.’”
In the four games Tice played in 2016, the 5-foot-10 power back scored two touchdowns and rushed for 223 yards on 32 touches, putting him on pace to have his best season as a Bull.
It wasn’t until the next week at practice that Tice was told he could possibly receive a medical redshirt – a waiver that would give him another year of eligibility to play football for USF, if granted.
Tice immediately applied, then played the waiting game.
“I just put it in God’s hands and told myself I’ll be fine,” Tice said. “I took the mindset of ‘everything will be alright,’ instead of a negative one. I just kept praying.”
Tice recalled asking athletic trainers Steve Walz and Yuriy Chulskiy every day for weeks if he had qualified for the redshirt yet, finding no luck each time.
On Feb. 15, he received the news he had been dying to hear since September.
“The one time I come in and don’t ask them about it, they look at me and tell me, ‘Congratulations, you got the redshirt,’” Tice said with a laugh.
“I was so happy when they told me; I almost ran home. My Mom, my Dad and everybody in my family were so happy too. Everybody had been praying for it.”
Finally, Tice had what he had been praying for — a second chance.
“At that age, you never really think about the end. You never really think about what happens next,” running backs coach Shaun King said. “When you get injured like that, and you think it could be all over, it gives you a lot of time to be introspective and kind of take a look at the big picture.”
For Tice, just knowing that he hadn’t yet played his final collegiate game was an indescribable feeling.
“When I got hurt I didn’t think about my college career possibly being over at first,” Tice said. “I was just hurting, and thinking about how I wouldn’t be able to finish the rest of the season to help the team.”
Often heralded as the life of the team for his up-beat and friendly personality, Tice stayed positive even while sidelined for the rest of the year.
“It hurt having to watch from the sideline, but at the same time to see those boys go out there and win, it made the process a little easier,” Tice said.
“It sucked to not be able to be out there making plays myself, but it was also a blessing in disguise. I was able to look from a different perspective of the game to see what’s going on. Things that you can’t necessarily see while you’re in the game yourself.”
To go along with rehabbing his own injury, Tice was placed in charge of all the players who suffered injuries during the regular season according to coach King.
“He’s turned into one of the leaders, and he’s always in a good mood,” King said.
But now, with no more stress of not knowing if he’d be able to play again, Tice got to work.
Tice excelled in spring practices, as well as in the spring game on Saturday, rushing for 59 yards on seven carries.
To go along with his personal success, Tice has served as a familiar face, and an older mentor to younger running backs Trevon Sands and Elijah Mack in the spring, as the Bulls have an almost entirely new coaching staff.
Known for his power running, Tice will step into a bigger role this season, as the Bulls will look to implement more power running between the tackles, according to offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert.
Playing with fellow running back D’Ernest Johnson, Tice said that the Bulls can maintain their high-power run game from last year that ranked fifth in the NCAA in rush yards per game, despite losing starting running back Marlon Mack to the NFL Draft.
Tice only has one math class left to complete before he graduates in May.
Whether it be his efforts on the field, or his veteran presence on the sideline, the Bulls are thankful to have Tice back for another year.
Just seven months ago, Tice dreamed of once again running out through the tunnel at Raymond James Stadium with his teammates.
But on Sept. 2, when USF hosts its home-opener against Stony Brook, those distant dreams will turn into a blissful reality for the fifth-year senior.
“When you get another shot like Tice did, you naturally appreciate everything a bit more,” King said. “You learn to enjoy the moments while you’re here.”