By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
One of the hardest problems college athletes face comes when they find things not going right, be it a problem with their game, with a teammate or coach, or in school or their social life.
They are not yet experienced enough to know how to deal with such problems, and finding someone in whom they can not only confide in but get sound advice from is difficult.
West Virginia University women’s basketball player Taylor Palmer doesn’t have that problem.
Her sister, Janay Palmer, is engaged to and will have a June marriage to Ray Rice.
Yes, that one, the one with the Super Bowl ring, the Ray Rice from Rutgers University who plays for the Baltimore Ravens and is one of the top running backs in the National Football League.
This past week he and Janay sneaked into Morgantown to catch Taylor in a game … a game the Mountaineers managed to win but not necessarily one of her best games.
Playing in front of him, she assured, was not the reason she had trouble scoring.
“I see him all the time, so it’s not like exciting,” she said. “We knew each other when I was in high school.”
Rice has offered himself a big brother figure for Palmer, helping her through those tough moments that can’t be avoided.
“He always calls me,” she said. “We have almost monthly chats, and he tells me to call him whenever I need anything. He’s been a release for me since I’ve been in college.”
Mostly it’s just general pep talks, but he understands the kinds of problems she can be going through.
“He tells me to keep working hard, stay focused and don’t let anything I can’t control take my confidence away or get me rattled up,” she said.
He was especially important to her career during her freshman year, a time when most players need a lot of support and help.
She had come to West Virginia from a very different environment, a suburb of New York City, and had to adjust to the new life of college and of being a college athlete.
“When I was freshman and struggling with conditioning, I talked to him a lot that year,” she said.
Palmer is from Mount Pleasant, N.Y., and Rice from the neighboring community and rival New Rochelle. He met Janay when she was 16, and he has been dating her since 2008, which was his first season with the Ravens.
The first date was at The Cheesecake Factory when Rice came home from school.
“I was so nervous,” Janay Palmer has been quoted as saying. “I didn’t even eat dinner. I just ate a slice of cheesecake.”
When Rice was drafted by the Ravens, Janay followed him to Baltimore and enrolled at Towson University, graduating with a major in communication studies.
Upon graduation, Rice gave her a pair of gifts: a new car and an engagement ring.
“I almost passed out when he told me the car was mine,” said Palmer. “I’m just happy I decided to be nice that day instead of letting him get his own wallet.”
A few months later Janay found out she was pregnant and gave birth to their beautiful daughter, Rayven, on February 2012.
“I have a lot to be thankful for,” says Palmer. “I’m aware of my blessings. I try to keep grounded because in any second my life can change in the blink of an eye like it has already done.”
While at Rutgers, Rice did as much damage to West Virginia as anyone from Rutgers could do, seeing as Rutgers didn’t beat the Mountaineers in football.
Not that Rice didn’t help them come as close as they could. The year was 2006, the second of a three-year career that would see Rice gain 5,260 yards, and Rutgers was on the verge of going to its first – and only – BCS bowl.
All it needed to do was beat WVU and Rice carried 25 times for 129 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but Rutgers came up on the short end of a 41-39 loss.
The No. 15 Mountaineers knocked down quarterback Mike Teel’s 2-point conversion pass in the end zone to preserve the triple-overtime victory over the No. 13 Scarlet Knights. WVU won the game even though quarterback Pat White was out with an ankle injury, forcing Jarrett Brown to get his first significant action as a Mountaineer.
And when he played in Super Bowl XLVII and beat the San Francisco 49ers, 34-31, in Ray Lewis’ final game, Taylor Palmer’s family were guests at the game.
Her family, but not her, for WVU’s women’s team had a game of their own that day, and she had her own obligations.
But she’s seen him play enough to know what makes him tick.
“I’ve watched him since he was in high school and college and was amazed at his determination and how hard he works. It’s nice to see someone who puts in as much work as he does get rewarded,” she said.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.