A first-year team captain, Joshua Pearcy did not disappoint, leading the team in sacks on his way to becoming our 2022 Rice Football Defensive Player of the Year.
Having too many good players is a coach’s dream. That’s one of the reasons head coach Mike Bloomgren wasn’t too worried about how the preseason rotation on the edge would play out. Regardless of who “won”, Rice would be better. Joshua Pearcy emerged from the competition and parlayed that into an outstanding season worthy of being named our 2022 Rice Football Defensive Player of the Year.
Through camp, the conversation at Pearcy’s position centered around how the defensive staff would get both Pearcy and fellow edge rusher Kenneth Orji on the field. Pearcy was coming off a tremendous 58 tackle, four sack performance when the competition began to heat up in earnest this spring.
It was during those spring sessions that defensive coordinator Brian Smith began to drop some breadcrumbs. “He’s playing better than he ever has,” Smith said of Pearcy, going on to detail what sort of packages they could use to get both him and Orji on the field. In the end though, not only did Pearcy win the job, his rapid ascent just continued to reach new heights.
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Pearcy was named a captain prior to the season, in part because of his impressive work on special teams. Special teams coordinator Chris Monfilleto singled him out as one of the key voices of the unit. Pearcy had tied for the team lead in special team tackles the season before.
In addition to his special team’s work, Pearcy became a leader of the defense too. He finished fourth on the team in tackles in 2022, the most among any defensive lineman on the roster. His 10 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks put him in the top seven in both categories among all Conference USA defenders. He had become a force.
“We got to stop the run [and] make the plays that we’re supposed to make,” Pearcy said of the defense heading into the regular season finale. “But when it comes down to those plays where talent takes over, beyond just doing your job, you got to make those plays too.”
Those plays, the ones that prove differential, game-changing. Those are the plays that Pearcy gravitated to the most.
It’s no coincidence that Pearcy started in what was arguably the most emphatic defensive play of the season, cementing an upset win over UAB for the second consecutive year. The Blazers had the ball on the Rice 35-yard line with time ticking under one minute to play. After a sack by Trey Schuman on first down, Pearcy was credited with a forced fumble on the next play, forcing third and long.
UAB nearly converted a game-winning hail mary to upend the Owls last season, but Rice was saved via penalty. This time, it was Pearcy, who sacked quarterback Dylan Hopkins on the final play of regulation to secure the win and enable Rice to move to 3-2 on the season.
Pearcy would go on to make more plays, including tying a season-high seven tackles with one sack and 1.5 tackles for a loss in the Owls’ Lending Tree Bowl matchup with Southern Miss. All three of those measures tied or lead the team outright. In another big moment, Pearcy showed up. Because that’s what great players do. The answer to the preseason musings had been solved. No matter what Rice football chooses to do, they’d better make sure Josh Pearcy is on the field.
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