Thrust into a starting job, corner Miles McCord made the most of it, earning the title of 2020 Rice Football Defensive Newcomer of the Year.
McCord began his collegiate career at Gold West College in 2018. He was a rotational defensive back that year, but did enough to give himself a chance to play at the D1 level. He joined the Rice football team in May of 2019, shortly before offseason workouts began.
When McCord arrived, he was a work-in-progress player, a guy that wasn’t expected to be in the starting lineup any time soon. He was a depth piece with good athleticism and untapped potential, a raw talent, ready to be molded.
McCord appeared in four games his first season at South Main, primarily playing on special teams. By the time spring ball arrived in 2020, he hadn’t cracked the two-deep. The casual fan wouldn’t have paid much attention to McCord, No. 24, but his coaches noticed.
They noticed his intellect, the way he understood the scheme and where he was supposed to be. They noticed him come off the field during practices, identifying missed assignments and improper reads. By the time fall camp finally came around, McCord had made a tremendous leap from where he was as a late-summer flier more than a year ago.
Meanwhile, transfers and injuries ravaged what was expected to be a rather deep position group. Tyrae Thornton was gone. Collin Whitaker was off the roster. Andrew Bird was hurt. Jason White was hurt. Tre’shon Devones would be in and out of the lineup as he battled injuries of his own. Newcomer Sean Fresch played in one game before missing the rest of the regular season, injured.
At times it felt like McCord was the only man left standing. At times, he was.
“His confidence is growing. He’s mastered the defense,” cornerbacks coach Gerard Wilcher said midway through the season. Wilcher noted that McCord was behaving much more like a veteran in terms of his understanding and communication than the junior college player the Owls’ had initially recruited.
If McCord fell upward into the starting corner job, he didn’t stick there by default. As his teammates returned to practice, almost of all which fall above him in the original pecking order, it was McCord who stayed on the field. McCord was the only corner on the roster to appear in every game the Owls’ played in their abridged 2020 season. No other corner played in more than three. McCord played—and started—every contest.
McCord had the Owls’ first interception of the season, snagging a deflected pass from Southern Miss’ Jack Abraham late in the first quarter of that game. The redzone pick led to a Rice field goal on the ensuing drive, the first points in what would be the Owls’ first win. McCord’s takeaway also played a role in one of the team’s most impressive defensive statistics: Rice allowed zero points in the first quarter all season.
It wasn’t always perfect, but McCord proved himself as a trustworthy starting corner in the bumpiest season he and the Owls will likely ever experience. He had two passes defended along with the interception. His 14 tackles were the most of any corner and the 10th most of any player on the team, an impressive mark for someone who plays as far away from the ball as corners typically do.
But the most impressive contribution McCord produced in 2020 can’t be found on the box score. He was a tremendous asset in coverage, limiting opportunities for opposing offenses. Rice needs true man-on-man cover corners to execute their defensive scheme. The Owls had exhausted all other options. They desperately needed McCord to rise to the occasion. And he did. Again, and again, and again.
McCord’s rise is a feel good story. He’s another junior college player turned into a Conference USA mainstay by this coaching staff. But more than anything, he kept an elite defense operating at the same level through a year flush with challenges. When Rice needed someone to hold the line, McCord stepped in and elevated the play of those around him. The Owls will be glad to have him patrolling the boundary for years to come.