One of the few transfer additions on defense, linebacker Chris Conti quickly became a mainstay and our 2022 Rice Football Defensive Newcomer of the Year.
Rice football received commitments from two transfer linebackers from the Transfer Portal last winter. The hope, at least among the coaching staff, was that both would play meaningful roles for the Owls this coming season and beyond. But only one of them made it to campus and thus, though unspoken, a heaping mantle of expectations was unconsciously placed upon his shoulders.
Fortunately for everyone, Chris Conti had wide shoulders and was ready for the challenge.
The Rutgers transfer was a late addition to the portal, finding mutual interest from the Owls early on. By the time he announced his commitment, spring football was winding down. He didn’t arrived on campus until workouts in the summer, putting him behind the proverbial eight ball when it came to learning and mastering the Owls’ defensive schemes. That never seemed to phase him, though.
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Defensive Coordinator Brian Smith referred to Conti as someone with “starting ability” in the days leading up to fall camp, betting on talent that hadn’t seen the field very much at his previous stop. The high school film was exciting, but that had been so long ago.
Conti arrived on campus with three years of eligibility remaining. The hope was always that he’d become a key piece in the Owls’ linebacker room. How quickly that happened was up to him.
As it turned out, it wouldn’t take much time at all. Conti started his first game in a Rice uniform on the road against USC, making four tackles, tied for third-most on the team. From there, the ascent began.
”He’s playing exceptionally well. He’s still getting more and more comfortable with the system every day.” head coach Mike Bloomgren said following Conti’s second game against McNeese State. “I’m not sure he’s where he’ll be three weeks from now.”
Bloomgren did go on to note that the base package Rice deployed against McNeese State was the only reason Conti wasn’t officially listed as a starter in that contest. Bloomgren reiterated Conti had already earned a starting spot and Conti quickly backed up that praise.
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He would officially be tabbed as the starter in 11 of 12 games during the 2022 season. He had a season-best 11 tackles against Houston and things started to really click.
“I’ll be honest, I love the culture. I love the guys,” Conti said. “Right when I came they brought me in with open arms and I’ve loved every second of it.”
Conti would reach double digits tackles again a few weeks later against Louisiana Tech. Throughout the year he added four tackles for a loss and one sack. For someone Rice had hoped would become an important piece, he became a key cog for the Rice defense.
After a parade of reliable all-conference caliber linebackers that have passed through the Rice football locker room in recent years, finding someone who could fill those shoes was a daunting task. The Owls found at least one such man in Conti. And fortunately enough, he still has two more seasons of eligibility to make a difference at South Main.
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