Tahj Rice is used to being a big deal.
The four-star Waggener High defensive lineman has had college football programs from around the country courting him, and recruiting reporters have been keeping a close eye on the 6-foot-3, 285-pound rising senior as his decision neared.
But when Rice announced he was choosing Duke over Louisville, Oregon, Southern Cal and Virginia Tech on Tuesday with an effects-laden, over-the-top superhero-themed video produced by the Courier-Journal, a whole new world of sports fans took notice.
Deadspin called it “glorious” (and commenters there had a field day). SB Nation wondered if it might be the “greatest commitment video ever.” Yahoo Sports called it, simply, “awesome.” Coed.com tweeted, “Tahj Rice has immediately become the coolest Duke athlete ever.”
Other outlets to pick it up include Reddit, Bleacher Report, Sports Illustrated (“It’s a big-time video for a big-time recruit,” SI wrote), ESPN (who lauded Rice’s acting skills), Vice Sports, College Spun, Campus Sports, UPROXX, Fansided, Coed.com and Campus Insiders. With more than 50,000 views, the video has been trending on YouTube.
Even MLB Network’s “Intentional Talk” requested permission to air the video for a segment to air during Tuesday’s 8 p.m. episode.
Rice said he got a ton of feedback on the video – almost all positive – and that his friends loved it. Duke coaches, he said, were fans, too.
“They said they thought it was one of the best commitment videos they’ve ever seen,” Rice said.
Rice said Louisville was a close second but that he chose Duke in part because it offered the best combination of opportunities.
“I felt a real connection with the coaches and the players, and when I went up there, I got to spend some time with the players and they felt like a family, it all felt like a really family-oriented program,” Rice said. “And the education, you just can’t get any better than that unless you go to some Ivy League schools, but the football’s not the same there. So it’s the best education and football program that I can get when you add those together.”
The whole project came together barely more than a week ago when the Courier-Journal sports staff hooked up with Rice and his trainer, former Louisville player Chris Vaughn (who stars as, aptly enough, the Louisville character you see making Jim Halpert-level eye contact with the camera).
Rice was looking to make a unique commitment video and we happened to have some talented people hanging around the CJ, so it worked out great. Rice brought a few of his teammates with him to the Courier-Journal office, we found a gritty spot in the bowels of the building and filmed it over a few hours.
Then the CJ’s video and motion graphics expert, Jeff Faughender, stepped in with a digital-effects job that has since been heralded as his audition tape for the next “Sharknado” movie.
“What a fun assignment that was,” Faughender said. “Tahj and his crew wanted the video to be funny and full of special effects, so I ran with it.”
Big shout out to @JFauGFX for the Graphics in the video 👌🏾👌🏾👌🏾— EBE SPAzZ🕴🏾 (@tahj_rice) March 14, 2017
Twitter, as you might imagine, had a blast with Rice’s video, too. Here’s a sampling of the reactions:
Bells and Whistles from peaches to Churchill Downs!!! Bang Bang DukeGang18!! 🏅🛎🏆. DukeGang is right on target🎯🏈. Throwing heavy punches🥊!— David Cutcliffe (@DavidCutcliffe) March 14, 2017
@tahj_rice shoutout to the bro on his commitment!!!! Video had me dyinggggg😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂— taco (@TacoHitTheLotto) March 14, 2017
Not everyone loved it, though.
I'd pull the scholarship to @tahj_rice just for that awful video.— DHG (@UmdPenaltyBox) March 14, 2017