Rice football finally has their entire 2018 signing class on campus. Which of the new Owls stands to make the most significant contributions in year one?
The coaching staff is in the midst of Freshman Enhancement Week, the first gathering of the entire 2018 class under the same roof. The incoming Owls will participate in orientation and a variety of sessions designed to equip them to excel both in the classroom and on the field.
Coach Mike Bloomgren will get his first look at the freshman during condition drills this week. Although the rest of the team doesn’t report until camp on July 26, he’ll already be making notes on which players he’s going to lean on the most of the gate. Here are three freshmen that could be in line for big seasons in 2018.
The highest-rated recruit in Bloomgren’s first class, Cameron Valentine has big shoes to fill off the edge. Rice didn’t get a ton of pressure off the edge in 2017, and the top four sack leaders among defensive ends last season are no longer on the roster. Whether Bloomgren likes it or not, he’s going to have to rotate a lot of youth through the edge this season. That’s not news to him, though. Bloomgren signed three defensive ends in the 2018 class, headlined by Valentine.
Valentine turned down an offer from Texas Tech to hold down the edge at Rice. He finished his high school career in Richmond, Tx with 21 sacks and 236 career tackles. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound end will only be more imposing after a few more weeks in the weight room with the Rice staff. Of all the players in this class, Valentine has the best chance to start on Aug. 25 against Prarie View A&M.
Classified as a 3-star athlete and a top-300 player in the state of Texas, Prudy Calderon will be a versatile weapon for the Owls right away. He was recruited as a defensive back and will most likely begin at safety. A two-way player in high school, Calderon also racked up 3,039 all-purpose yards as the starting quarterback at San Marcos High School.
The District 15-6A Offensive MVP in 2017, Calderon will try his luck on the other side of the ball in college. He had success there in high school as well, registering four interceptions and 160 tackles in two seasons. His height, 5-foot-11, is the only concern with putting him out wide, but he could see time in a variety of spots during preseason practices.
You can’t teach size. Rice’s top receiving threat last season was Aaron Cephus, a 6-foot-4, 205-pound freshman. Players like Cephus present matchup problems for the defense, and adding a second big-bodied pass catcher on the other side will be huge for the offense in 2018. That’s where Brendan Harmon comes in.
Harmon is 6-foot-5, 180 pounds. The All Saints Episcopal High School product from Fort Worth Texas reeled in 67 balls for 1,311 yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior. If he can recreate even a portion of that production at Rice this fall he’ll be in line to be one of the best pass-catching options this fall. Stacking him up alongside Cephus in the redzone makes the Owls better at the goal line, even if the ball isn’t thrown his way.