Linebacker Blaze Alldredge set a new standard at South Main. The Owls’ captain is our pick for Rice Football Defensive Player of the Year.
The story of how Blaze Alldredge came to be a Rice Owl is a good one, but the impact he’s had on the Rice football program is a legacy still being written.
As he describes it, head coach Mike Bloomgren and Rice football took “a chance on a junior college guy with zero offers out of high school.” A late addition to the 2019 signing class turned into one of the most impressive resumes of any linebacker to walk between the hedges on South Main—and there have been some great ones.
Alldredge first received the call to start on the road against Southern Miss in 2018. He led the team in tackles and had the Owls’ first interception of the year in that game, the fourth contest of the season. But the defense still surrendered 40 points and the Owls lost the game. A fill-in role for an injured man above him on the depth chart turned soon led to his name being inked in permanent marker among the defensive starters.
In almost a perfect juxtaposition of past and present, Alldredge also had an interception in his last road start, coming this fall in Huntington, WV against previously unbeaten No. 15 Marshall. Once more, Alldredge led the team in tackles, but this time the end result was much different. Not only did the defense not allow a single point, they scored a touchdown of their own, courtesy of Alldredge’s roommate Naeem Smith on a pick six.
Alldredge will tell you himself that he’s come a long way from that first start against Southern Miss. The accolades that follow him reinforce that growth. A first-team All-Conference USA selection this year, Alldredge was also on every preseason watch list he qualified for. It didn’t matter who you asked, Alldredge was and is the best of the best.
The only naysayer, to any degree, would probably have been himself. “I just wish I coulda given them more,” he said following his senior season.
What he did give, was impressive. Alldredge finished the 2020 season third in Conference USA in tackles per game. He had at least a share of a tackle for a loss in his last 16 games played, dating back to last year when he finished second in the nation with 21.5 tackles for a loss. He was the heart of the Rice defense, and at the same time, he was the arms, legs, feet and just about everything else. There wasn’t anywhere on the field Alldredge couldn’t be and there wasn’t any job he wouldn’t do.
A team captain, Alldredge’s impact well beyond the field. In the preseason, linebackers coach Scott Vestal said having Alldredge in meetings was “almost like having another coach in the room.” Vestal praised the Alldredge’s inquisitiveness and forward-thinking nature. A student and a teacher, Alldredge would routinely quiz and council young players and help them understand the scheme. He found all the little ways to make the team better.
Boiled down to its core, Alldredge was a culture builder for a program in desperate need of a reformed identity. The defense allowed 36.0 points per game in Alldredge’s first season. This year the Owls surrendered 18.8 points per game. From one extreme to the other. It doesn’t really matter which statistic you pick, Alldredge made the defense better.
“Plays that would have rattled us before,” Alldredge noted, “That doesn’t happen anymore. We have a lot more confidence.” Call it confidence; call it consistency. Call it whatever you’d like to. The net result is a defense that looks entirely different than the unit Alldredge stepped into.
Rice made tremendous strides on defense thanks to Alldredge’s leadership. But in his mind, the bar has been elevated. “In terms of what I’ve accomplished at Rice. I think that that’s going to be best reflected by what happens in the years to come,” he said, following the end of the 2020 season. “I think that we have a really talented linebacker room, we have guys that hopefully, in a couple of years, make you forget about Blaze Alldredge.”
Forget about Blaze Alldredge? Not a chance.