Rice football is getting younger. Freshman linebacker Antonio Montero and safety Prudy Calderon are set to start on defense against UTSA.
Head coach Mike Bloomgren has been adamant that every player on this team has to earn the right to be on the field. Only a few young players have done that so far, but the starting units are getting younger, a trend that is likely to strengthen in the coming weeks.
Linebacker Antonio Montero and wide receiver Brendan Harmon became the first true freshman to start a game for the Owls in 2018, suiting up with the first team against Wake Forest in Week 5. They follow a pair of redshirt freshmen, cornerback Tyrae Thornton and receiver Rhett Cardwell each of whom have drawn spot starts earlier this year.
Montero credits his insertion into the starting lineup with the tremendous progress he’s made since the start of fall camp. “I’m playing a lot faster and more physical,” he said, “I’ve been getting a lot better with the mental aspect of the game, too.” He’s not alone, joining him and the other starters on defense in Week 6 against UTSA will be his roommate, safety Prudy Calderdon.
This will be Calderon’s first start of his collegiate career. He will be the 17th different Rice player making their first career start so far in 2018. Getting this opportunity required work, and Calderdon says he knows it’s going to have to continue to push himself if he wants to maintain his starting job going forward. “I can’t slack off for one second. This makes me want to go even harder now knowing what’s on the line,” they young safety declared, adding “I just have to go out and prove myself.”
Special teams continue to get plenty of emphasis during practice. One of the few things the Owls’ highly ranked unit hasn’t accomplished so far is a kick return touchdown. Austin Walter and Austin Trammell have solidified themselves on the first team with Nashon Ellerbee and Aston Walter backing them up. That’s a lot of speed and quickness. Sooner or later, one of them is going to take one to the house.
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