CSU receiver proving the Price is Right in the big gamesSeptember 15, 2006
By David Shelton, Special to the Post and Courier
Many times in sports, an athlete is judged by how he performs on the biggest stage. Whether it's an all-star game, a championship game, or simply a battle between rivals, athletes that can raise their level of play in the biggest games are the ones most remembered.
At Charleston Southern, junior wide receiver Maurice Price is proving to be the Buccaneers' big game performer. Almost since his arrival, Price has made a habit of performing well in his team's biggest games. It all started in 2004, when as a freshman, Price caught six passes for 87 yards, including an amazing touchdown reception, in CSU's first-ever Big South Conference victory over VMI.
In the 2005 season opener against The Citadel, Price caught seven passes for 112 yards before leaving with an rib injury in the third quarter. He caught nine passes for 189 yards in a game against Howard. Then, as the Bucs went on their five-game winning streak on their way to the Big South Conference title, Price was virtually unstoppable. He caught 13 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-30 win over Liberty. He second touchdown reception, leaping high over a defender in the endzone and snaring the pass with one hand, was the game-winning score with only seconds left in the game.
Price caught 11 passes for 111 yards as CSU won their first-ever road conference game over Gardner-Webb. Then, in the finale against Coastal Carolina, Price caught nine passes for 75 yards.
Fast forward to the start of the 2006 season. CSU defeated Presbyterian in week one for the first time in 12 years. Price caught nine passes for 93 yards and a touchdown. Then, last Saturday night in CSU's double overtime win over The Citadel, Price caught 12 passes for 130 yard and two touchdowns, including a 25-yard in the first overtime to put the Bucs on top. Needless to say, when the Bucs play a big game, the Price is right.
"The bigger the game, the better I seem to play," said the 6-1, 195-pounder from Orlando, Florida. "I love the big stage and last week against The Citadel was the biggest stage of all, at least for us. We won't ever play in front of 15,000 people again this year. Plus all of the emotion that was involved, it was awesome.
"I go into every game focused on doing the best I can but I get an extra kick of adrenaline in the big games. I feel like I am getting better in that area and I hope I can prove that for the rest of this season."
In some respects, Price is like a thoroughbred race horse on the day of a big race. Most horses seem relaxed and uninterested until the gate to the chute shuts behind them. Once the door opens, it's all out. CSU receivers coach Jamey Chadwell admits Price did not have a good fall camp leading into the season. But as the season got closer, the thoroughbred began to trot.
"It wasn't there for him for most of camp and we talked a lot about working harder and preparing himself better," said Chadwell. "Then, about the time we started preparing for PC, he turned it up a notch and he has been great ever since. He's a really talented guy but we've talked a lot about working and preparing harder than anyone else. He's the type of player that has the ability to bring everyone else up to another level just by pushing himself."
When Price came out of Olympia High in Orlando, he had offers from Illinois State, Howard, UT-Martin and CSU. The advantage for CSU in the recruiting process was distance from home, the type of offense CSU ran, and a young receiver named Eddie Gadson, who served as Price's host during his visit to campus. The two would become good friends and talk often of how good the offense would be as each player matured. Gadson caught more than 70 passes in 2004 while Price, the freshman understudy, caught 27 passes. The untimely death of Gadson during the summer of 2005 was quite a setback personally for Price.
"Eddie was all about winning," said Price. "When I was on my visit, he never said a negative word. He was never threatened by me and the fact that I might come in and take his spot. All he did was talk about the offense and how all of the receivers get the ball. He talked about the great things that we could do together. It was very cool.
"That first year, I didn't have any pressure on me. I just learned from Eddie. He was a special player and man he played hard. He had a great year and I was able to come along slowly. I think that was real important for me, just to be able to adjust to the college game and gain some confidence. I miss him everyday."
With Gadson's death, the pressure on Price to become the main man was evident from the first day of fall camp in 2005. Things started slowly for Price. After starting well against The Citadel, Price missed the next three games with a rib injury. But once he returned, Price proved that he was the best pass catcher in the Big South. He led the conference in receptions (72) and yards (1,043), scoring seven touchdowns.
"There was a healthy competition between Eddie and Maurice and we began to liken it to a Jordan-Pippin situation where the two would feed off each other and work in tandem," said CSU head coach Jay Mills. "Eddie's passing was tough on Maurice. Not only because he lost a great friend but also because it would put more emphasis on Maurice's shoulders. Then he missed three games and it was a tough time for him. Fortunately, he came back with a fire inside and he really had a great season for us."
Price turned 21 on September 11, officially entering the world of manhood. Now, as a high profile athlete in the Lowcountry, more eyes are watching Price. He enjoys being in the limelight but realizes now the responsibility that comes with it.
"I know I have to stay hungry," he said. "I know I have to be a leader with my teammates. We have some other great receivers and I have to help make them better, just as they help me get better. I'm starting to understand that I have to work harder than everybody else if I want to be the player I think I can be. I've got a long ways to go but I have coaches and teammates who will push me to be the best I can be. And we have big plans for this year as a team. I want to be a big part of that."
Price enters this week needing only six receptions to become CSU's all-time leading receiver. He will break the school career yardage mark soon after, and is closing in on both records in the books of the Big South Conference. All of this with a year of eligibility remaining.
"It's been a great ride but it's far from over," said Price. "We, as a team, have a lot of goals to reach. I honestly feel lucky to be here, playing with such great players like Collin Drafts, who is the best quarterback in America in my mind. Being a good teammate and helping us achieve our team goals is my number one goal. I know if I continue to work hard and put up the numbers, we have a chance to win."