Rice football has come a long way on the defensive side of the ball since the start of the 2018 season, spearheaded by Elijah Garcia and a host of young starters.
Elijah Garcia will start the fifth game of his Rice football career on Saturday against North Texas. The redshirt sophomore defensive lineman from San Antonio, TX had five total tackles a year ago. From five tackles to five starts, Garcia’s growth has been tremendous and the impact his presence has made on this team cannot be understated. He registered a career-best eight tackles against FIU last weekend.
Garcia says his motivation is simple, but focused. “Every week I’ve been trying to tell myself ‘you need to do a little bit more'”. So far, that “little bit more” has resulted in a front seven that’s strongest up the middle. Opposing teams have been able to find success on the edges, but running up the gut is a dicey proposition.
“Right now to run between the tackles against our defense is an uphill battle,” remarked head coach Mike Bloomgen. Garcia alongside team captain Zach Abercrumbia have turned the defensive line into one of the most consistent units on the defense.
Having guys like Abercrumbia, Roe Wilkins and Graysen Schantz to learn from has been invaluable for Garcia. He picks their brain as much as he can and enters every game trying to emulate their successes.
Garcia also credits the coaching staff with their constant message and direction. He reiterated a few phrases and maxims he’s heard more than once this fall, such as defensive line coach Cedric Calhoun’s reminder that “your assignment and technique aren’t always going to be perfect but your effort can be perfect.”
Effort has been front and center as the Owls fight through a prolonged drought between wins. Rewriting the narrative is going to require guys to do what Garcia is doing, working hard, being aggressive and attacking every drill and play with relentless effort.
One defensive lineman playing with effort won’t rewrite a season. But Garcia’s infectious personality and culture building attitude are the kinds of building blocks that this program needs to get to where Bloomgren wants to take it. Garcia is a fighter. Eight tackles against FIU are just the beginning of what he’s capable of doing for Rice football in the coming weeks and years.
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