National Signing Day marked the completion of the 2019 Rice Football recruiting class. The new Owls will be met with both excitement and expectation.
Mike Bloomgren stood in front of a microphone on National Signing Day and couldn’t help but smile when he talked about the 2019 Rice football recruiting class. He has to smile. He has to give those cliched axioms. “We have addressed everything we wanted to,” he said. “We’re a year better everywhere.”
But for this team, and this recruiting class, Bloomgren’s words were much more than platitudes. That’s because the 2019 class marked a significant change. It marked the official tipping point between Year 0 and the heart of the Mike Bloomgren era.
The second-year head coach isn’t an excuse maker. He carries himself with a humble confidence, celebrating the good times and vowing to push his staff and his team through the bad. And now this team is his team.
“Two-thirds of the team are guys that we brought in,” Bloomgren acknowledged “[the 2018 and 2019 signing classes] knew the expectation when they walked in the door.” For a man who has preached Process in his first year at South Main, the rubber is beginning to meet the road.
It’s no secret Bloomgren inherited a blank slate. The roster and the direction of the Rice football program were handed to him by athletic director Joe Karlgaard when the first-time head coach was hired away from Stanford following the 2017 season. Bloomgren crafted a plan and set it in motion.
A lot has transpired since. Rice opened their 2018 season against Prairie View. After winning that game in thrilling fashion, the Owls put up strong performances in the next two games against Houston and Hawaii, both losses. Both defeats highlighted some glaring issues with the roster Bloomgren inherited — it wasn’t fast enough, strong enough or deep enough, not by a longshot.
In the weeks that followed Rice would win just one more game. Injuries ravaged the quarterback room and finding consistent performers on the defensive side of the ball was a weekly challenge. Freshmen, several recruited by Bloomgren in his first signing class at Rice, became stars.
Prudy Calderon and Antonio Montero built names for themselves on defense. Wiley Green, Cole Garcia and Juma Otoviano paved the way for the Owls’ climactic send-off win over Old Dominion. Despite the two-win record, there were pieces. There just needed to be more of them.
Bloomgren cut to the chase. “We need to raise the ceiling of talent on both sides of the ball all across this program, but we’ve also got to raise the floor.” He said, “We’re doing that right now.” The turnover on the roster has been hard to miss. Rice started six upperclassmen against Old Dominion — two of those will return to the roster in 2019: safety George Nyakwol and defensive tackle Myles Adams.
With the youth movement comes both challenge and opportunity. The incoming class has proof the team is going to start whoever earns each spot on Saturday. They’ll be competing for jobs out of the gate, something that can and must push the incumbents to work harder. “I love that we actually have competition. The way it’s supposed to be in college football,” remarked Bloomgren.
Competition. Process. Results. The wheels set in motion more than a year ago will continue to turn as the newest Owls make their way to campus, some in the spring, others in the summer. No matter when they arrive, they’ll each be asked to push themselves and this program further and harder than ever before. For Bloomgren and his staff, the future is now.