When national signing day comes along each year, Rice isn’t exactly the first school to garner major press attention. “The Harvard of the South” (or Southwest, if you prefer) tends to recruit and lock up its future players on its own terms well in advance of the late signing season push.
Yet this year, Rice got some attention for doing what would be unthinkable at a most schools: They gave a full scholarship to a teenager they know won’t ever play a down for the Owls.
As first reported by KHOU, one of the members of Rice’s incoming class of football players is Bryan (Texas) Rudder High defensive end David Wilganowski, a player who first gained major attention in September when he collapsed during a game and required emergency intervention to save his life. After being shocked with an automatic external defibrillator on the field, Wilganowski was flown to Houston, where it was later determined that his heart had given out and he would require a defibrillator to be implanted into his chest.
That procedure is being credited with saving and stabilizing his life, yet it also profoundly changed it: The chest-bound defibrillator essentially ensured that Wilganowski would never play football again. With the senior already having committed to Rice, it was understandable that he was concerned that he would lose his spot in the school’s incoming Class of 2016.
It turns out Wilganowski was wrong to ever doubt Rice at all. The school honored it’s scholarship to the teen, a pact that was made official on signing day when Wilganowski officially became a part of the school’s football program, albeit knowing that he would take on a different role than he ever imagined on campus next fall.
“We ask young men to keep their word to us, you know we say we’re going to be with them through thick or thin,” Rice football coach David Bailiff told KHOU. “I think it’s a good practice that you keep your word.”
As for Wilganowski, while he may still be getting used to the idea that he’ll never again play the sport he loves, he was openly confident that he would play an important part in the team’s future during his four-year tenure at the school.
His father, also named David, was even more emphatic about how he felt about the school.
“I’m really happy that Rice honored his commitment,” the elder David Wilganowski told KHOU. “God bless Rice.”