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The recent retirement of Will Brice’s No. 10 jersey at the University of Virginia drew a host of local folks, family and friends, to the special occasion at halftime of the Cavaliers’ ACC clash with the University of Miami.
Much like news of Will’s honor, that came as no surprise. When I first heard of the honor, some folks, who were unable to attend in body, I know were there in spirit.
Those three special folks are Will’s father, the late Laurie Brice, and his maternal grandparents, Brown and Sue Wylie.
My mother once told me on an occasion like Will’s special day, the Lord parts a cloud to give those saints, who played key roles in a loved ones life, a deserved bird’s eye view.
Laurie Brice passed on a passion for athletics and competition to his son.
He died way too young, a cancer victim. What I recall most about him was that he was a staunch supporter of youth soccer and was one of the key people behind starting a youth soccer program in Lancaster. If the late Don Dixon is the “Father of Tennis” in Lancaster, then Laurie Brice deserves a similar title for youth soccer. His dad planted that soccer seed and Will made it flourish from his kicking days at Lancaster High School, to Virginia and on to the NFL with the St. Louis Rams and Cincinnati Bengals.
Will was 11 when his dad died, but he was blessed to have a supportive family, including the Wylies. No matter the sport or where the game was played, they were there for Will. That support and guidance made a positive impact.
I know they would be proud. We all should be.
Will’s feat with his feet is amazing. When a player has his number retired, it’s a huge honor. Then, throw in the fact that Will was a punter enhances the accolade.
It’s a part of football, but punters are expected to do their job. The reason is because when called upon to perform, whether it’s a boomer, or a well-placed pooch punt, they’re expected to respond as the role demands.
When they don’t, they draw unwanted attention, likely boos and sharp criticism.
So Will’s jersey being retired is the ultimate. He did his job and did it well.
“There can’t be anybody any better. There isn’t anybody better, I’m sure. I’ve never seen anybody like him,” said George Welsh, Will’s coach at Virginia.
“He helped us win a lot of games,” Welsh said. “He had a great knack of punting from around the 50-yard line and putting it out at the 10. I don’t know how he did it.”
Will averaged 42 yards a kick over four seasons under Welch, but it was more than mere numbers.
One of every four was at least 50 yards and one of three was downed inside the 20. The gifted kicker could nail one for distance and deftly place one inside the red zone. His career numbers at Virginia also included 10 punts of 60 yards or more. A 78-yarder during the 1994 season against Georgia Tech still ranks as third-longest in school history.
Will had his share of big games, but the one that soars in memory, much like a Brice rocket, came in Virginia’s 33-28 win over No. 2 Florida State on national TV in 1995. He played a key role in the Cavs’ five-point win, FSU’s first-ever loss in ACC play. Virginia was an 18-point underdog, but boldly met the challenge.
On his eight punts, Will averaged 47.1 yards. Four times he pinned the potent Seminoles inside their 10-yard line.
Tell me the field position battle didn’t matter that memorable night.
Seminoles’ star running back Warrick Dunn, on the game’s final play from the Cavs’ six, took a direct snap and was halted inches shy of the goal line.
That’s been 15 years, but Virginia fans talk about the game like it was last Saturday.
That was among several facts not lost on Founders Federal CEO Bruce Brumfield, an avid sports fans who attended the weekend of activities to honor Will.
“We had lunch that Friday afternoon before the game at a sandwich shop in Charlottesville and the Florida State game was what they talked about,” Brumfield said. “It’s been 15 years and the level of respect they have for Will is pretty special. It was like that every place we went. It was like rolling with a rock star.
“Right before the half, they made an announcement that Will was going to be honored with his jersey retired and he received a standing ovation,”
Brumfield said. “To be one of 15 to have that honor, you really can’t say much more.”
What can be said is Will is the only the third player in ACC history to reap all-conference honors all four years. Take a moment to consider all the great players in ACC football.
Will is also the first kicking specialist in Cavs’ history to reap first-team All-American honors.
He ‘s humble about the fact he ranks as Virginia’s greatest punter.
“It’s really amazing to be in that group, like Terry Kirby, Tiki and Ronde Barber and Chris Slade among others,” Will said. “I’m honored to be in that group. This is something that I’ll always cherish and remember. It’s really special.”
Brumfield said it’s a feat for the ages.
“It warms your heart when you see Will’s name, photos and words of praise in the athletic center at Virginia,” he said. “The level of respect they have for Will is really touching and this is something which will be there forever.”
What makes it extra special is that Will takes it all in stride, much like those fundamental punter’s steps. He’s a special guy, yet one of us. He gained fame with his football career at Virginia, but he used his degree in civil engineering – an accomplishment in itself for a college football player – to return home to make a difference in his hometown with Perception Builders where he’s the senior project manager. He’s also active in his church and coaches youth soccer.
“Will’s one of those people who understood there’s life after sports,” Brumfield said.
Will, blessed with his share of athletic talent, has made a great name for himself in sports and brought honor to his hometown. At the same time, Will’s doing his part to make a positive impact on his community. Like an ace punter, he knows his role and continues to do it well.