With good speed to match his 6-foot-2, 198-pound frame, Reynoldsburg High School senior football player Mershawn Rice became the third commit to Purdue's 2019 recruiting class late in the spring.

At least some of his agility and athletic ability could be attributed to his background.

The cousin of former Missouri defensive back Aarion Penton, Rice participated in tennis, soccer and martial arts while attending Whitehall Preparatory and Fitness Academy from kindergarten through sixth grade.

"I've been playing sports my whole life," Rice said. "When I was little, I used to run around the house and had a ton of energy, so my mom put me into football. My dad helped me with training and the extra stuff and they're there for the support."

Rice began attending Reynoldsburg schools in seventh grade and came out for the middle school football program in eighth grade.

He hasn't looked back.

With a 36-6 win Sept. 7 over Marion-Franklin, the Raiders were 3-0 with Rice playing a key role at wide receiver.

Rice had seven catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns while also adding 26 yards rushing in Reynoldsburg's 17-14 win over Upper Arlington on Aug. 24.

Then in a 44-0 win over Licking Heights on Aug. 31, Rice had three catches for 41 yards and one score.

He had three receptions for 48 yards against Marion-Franklin in what was the first meeting between the programs.

The Red Devils have made 12 playoff appearances in the last 15 years, including each year from 2004-14.

Reynoldsburg coach Buddy White was an assistant under former coach Gary Tucker when the Red Devils made their first playoff appearance, and current coach Brian Haffele took over the program the next season.

White, who is in his eighth season leading the Raiders, knows how special of a player Rice has become.

"We see it every day in practice," White said. "He plays like he practices. He does everything you see in the game. Whenever your top player is your hardest worker, it says a lot about your team."

Reynoldsburg will try to beat Central Crossing for the third consecutive season when it visits the Comets on Friday, Sept. 14.

Central Crossing is in its second year under coach Trevor White, a former Marion-Franklin assistant and head coach at Brookhaven and Beechcroft who appears to have the program headed in the right direction.

The Comets, who went 4-6 last season, lost 22-20 to Marion-Franklin on Aug. 24 but beat Beechcroft 33-8 on Aug. 31 and Grove City 38-14 on Sept. 6.

Central Crossing has a pair of talented athletes on offense in running back Pierre France and wide receiver Anthony Lowe. France rushed for 174 yards and one touchdown and Lowe returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown and added a 53-yard scoring reception against Grove City.

Rice has been on the college radar since his sophomore season when he finished with 29 catches for 441 yards and three touchdowns.

He ended up with 36 receptions for 701 yards and eight touchdowns while making second-team all-district in Division I last fall and has remained the No. 1 receiver of junior quarterback Michael Whatley, who was the backup for most of last season.

The Raiders have been playing without senior Princeton Hoskins, their second-leading returning receiver, since he was injured against UA.

Rice, who is considering studying business in college and lists math as his favorite subject, plans to continue mastering reading defenses with the OCC-Ohio Division schedule still two weeks away.

"I feel like we've been playing well, but we still have got a lot more we can do," Rice said. "I feel like we've got a lot of potential. We've got a lot of depth and talent. We can fill positions in need, and there's just a ton of kids at every position. Everybody works hard. One thing we teach is that when the next group of receivers gets in, there's no drop-off."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek