FOXBORO -- Devin McCourty knew all along that Ray Rice would have success at the professional level. The two arrived at Rutgers in 2005, and by the time Rice left almost three years later, McCourty knew he had played with a future NFL star.
"That was our guy in college," McCourty said. "He made a lot of big plays for us, and when we watched as he went into the NFL I think we were all excited for him. You never know whats going to happen, but I dont think there were many guys in college that doubted he was going to be a big success in the NFL."
Now as a captain and starting safety for the Patriots, McCourty is charged with trying to stop Rice in the AFC Championship Game.
The Ravens' lead running back grew up a short drive from McCourty in New Jersey and the two are still friendly. But that doesn't mean their collisions on Sunday will be any less forceful, McCourty said.
"We hang out a little bit in the offseason," McCourty explained. "There are a bunch of us that went to school together and came in at the same time at Rutgers and won a lot of games there. The biggest thing, I think, is that none of that will matter Sunday. Well be going at it just like every other time weve played in the NFL."
Rice is one of the most unique running backs in the NFL, given his agility, his hands and his size. At 5-foot-9, 195 pounds, Rice is a compact muscle mass who doesn't shy from contact, but can just as easily juke defenders and run around them. He rushed for 1,143 yards and 9 touchdowns during the regular season and caught 61 passes for another 478 yards and a touchdown.
McCourty described the things he noticed about Rice in college that still make him difficult to bring down.
"His balance," McCourty said. "I think it still shows in the NFL. Just maybe because he is so small, he has great balance and leg strength that allows him to break a lot of tackles."
The Patriots have been strong against the run all season. Last week they limited Texans running back Arian Foster to 90 yards and a touchdown in their Divisional Round win, 41-28. During the regular season, they allowed only 3.9 yards per rush -- sixth best in the league.
McCourty will try to help the Patriots continue that success on Sunday, even if it's at the expense of his old college buddy.