The Rice football defense was a work in progress this season, but Zach Abercrumbia never waiver in the up front. He’s our 2018 Defensive Player of the Year.
Like the offense on the other side of the ball, the Rice defense took a while to get going in 2018. The play in the secondary got off to a slow start and consistent tackling in the linebackers had to be developed over time. Through the noise, defensive tackle Zach Abercrumbia was the steadying force that drove this unit forward.
Named the defensive captain in 2018, Abercrumbia led with his voice and his actions. It was he who gathered the team in post-practice huddles, called for meetings the team and challenged individuals to work harder and be better. All that in the midst of a historic statistical season of his own.
Abercrumbia registered 55 tackles and 4.5 sacks from the interior of the defensive line. He finished third on the team in total tackles and third in sacks. He registered a career-best nine tackles against UTSA.
Those are no small feats for a defensive lineman, and numbers of that caliber haven’t been produced from a Rice defensive lineman since Christian Covington tallied 59 tackles and 4.0 sacks for the Owls in 2013. Covington would later go on to be a sixth round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft following, impressive company for Abercrumbia to say the least.
His impact grew as the defensive line progressed throughout the season. By the time November rolled around there weren’t many teams finding success against the Owls between the tackles or in obvious running situations. Rice opponents averaged 3.6 yards per carry on third down and 1.6 yards on fourth down, both marks in the better half of Conference USA. Opposing teams simply struggled to make headway with Abercrumbia holding down the middle.
The redshirt junior has one more year of eligibility remaining. He’ll be back to hold down the defensive line again next season as well as serve as a mentor to a host of young players looking to make their mark along the front seven.
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