Rice football played a host of first-year players on defense. None shined brighter than safety Prudy Calderon, our 2018 Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Rice played 12 games in 2017 and intercepted three passes. The secondary had a long way to come from where it was, and strides were made in 2018 thanks primarily to the emergence of safety Prudy Calderon at strong safety, our 2018 Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Calderon made his first start against UTSA, the same game in which he registered his first career interception. He’d end the season with four picks on his own, the most by any defender for Rice this season and one more than last season’s total. Nine players in Conference USA tallied four or more picks, Calderon was the only underclassman in that group.
Mike Bloomgren said earlier this season that we’d only “scratched the surface” of who Calderon is going to become. He’s fast, instinctive and attacks the football from his center field position with tenacity and focus. He knows where he’s supposed to be but still finds a way to insert himself into the play whenever and wherever he can.
By season’s end Calderon finished fifth on the team in solo tackles (26) and second on the team in passes defended. He forced a fumble, recovered a fumble and picked up one tackle for a loss. Calderon did more than build up his own stats, he gave new life to a troubled defensive backfield.
Prior to Calderon’s first start against UTSA the Owls had allowed 11.0 yards per attempt to opposing offenses and 18 touchdown passes in eight games, a rate of 3.6 touchdowns per game. From the UTSA game on the Rice defense allowed 10 passing touchdowns in eight games, a rate of 1.25 touchdowns per game and 8.3 yards per attempt.
Collin Whitaker and Tyrae Thornton, along with Calderon, led the resurgence in the secondary, but the lack of touchdown passes should be credited to Calderon and fellow safety George Nyakwol. The future is bright for this unit and Calderon is leading the charge.
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