Former junior college wide receiver Bradley Rozner went from a question mark to a game changer for Rice Football in 2019, becoming an easy selection for Offensive Newcomer of the Year.
There were plenty of new faces on the Rice football offense this season. The freshman class had high expectations, but the most notable newcomers on that side of the ball were transfers. Rice brought in three graduates on the offensive line. They added a quarterback and a running back from Harvard. There was also one receiver from the junior college ranks.
When it came to sorting through which new face had the biggest impact, the answer was fairly straight forward. Former JUCO wide receiver Bradley Rozner, whose journey began with little fanfare, is our 2019 Rice Football Offensive Newcomer of the Year.
Bradley Rozner didn’t make it a week into Rice football spring practices before his head started spinning. The rigors of Rice academics combined with a thick playbook and a brand new offense had his mind working overtime. He looked at ease in one-on-one drills, but wasn’t able to translate that inate ability into the Owls’ scheme. Not yet.
By the time the 2019 season arrived, Rozner was more or less prepared. He wouldn’t be eased in, rather, the 6-foot-5, 195-pound junior college product became the de facto replacement for big-bodied wideout Aaron Cephus who had been suspended indefinitely prior to the team’s first game.
“At the beginning of the year, the only guy who had ever caught a ball for us was Trammell. Rozner was a question mark,” recalled wide receivers coach Mike Kershaw. Although the staff had noticed a progression from their new offensive weapon, there was still uncertainty about his ability to win one-on-one balls and out-muscle defenders in the air.
Rozner had one catch for six yards in his D1 debut.
After that, something clicked. “Once he learned the offense, actually learned where to line up, that started slowing things down. Then he could just play.” Rozner averaged nearly five receptions for 70 yards a game across his final 11 contests of the season. For the year, he led Rice football in receiving yards (770) and touchdowns (5). His highwater mark came on the road against Middle Tennessee, a game in which he caught three touchdowns.
If there was ever any doubts as to his ability, the Middle Tennessee game erased them entirely. No. 2 by jersey, Rozner became the No. 1 downfield threat for the Owls’ offense, which snapped out of a scoring funk to average 27 points per game in their final three contests. Prior to the winning streak, Rice had managed 27 points just once: a road game against UTSA in which Rozner had a season-high nine receptions for 138 yards.
Rozner was the big play machine for an offense desperate to be woken up. “There’s no doubt I struggled earlier on during the season, but I’m starting to hit my stride,” he said following his big day against UTSA. “Hopefully I can just keep progressing and the offense can keep working.”
The offense didn’t transform overnight solely because of Rozner. The veteran arm of quarterback Tom Stewart and production in the rushing game from Aston Walter helped push the Owls back in the right direction. But the impact Rozner had when he was on the field was always notable.
Against North Texas, an offensive staff that had intentionally grounded the football the game prior, trusted Rozner to make a big play when the team needed it most. Lined up in single coverage on third and long on what Rice hoped would be the clock-killing drive, Bloomgren took to the air. Stewart threw a jump ball up to Rozner who caught it in stride. From there, the Owls picked up another first down and the win.
The season was a collection of moments like that for Rozner. He led all of junior college in touchdowns last season. In his first year at Rice, he led the Owls’ pass catchers in scoring, too. Not only did South Main become his home, he proved he belonged on this stage time and time again.
Many hoped Rozner could become a useful piece of the Rice football offense. Instead, he became an integral component, one the Owls needed to move the ball. And when they did throw it his way, he made play after play.