After earning the starting job in fall camp, Jordan Dunbar proved to be one of the Owls’ most reliable defenders and an easy pick for 2021 Rice Football Defensive Newcomer of the Year.
Redshirt freshman corner Jordan Dunbar arrived on campus in 2020 but saw minimal action during his first season at South Main. He waited patiently, working to master his craft as he watched 2020 Rice Football Defensive Newcomer of the Year Miles Mccord patrol the sideline.
Dunbar’s name wasn’t listed on The Roost’s projected depth chart in the preseason, and that version went three levels deep. That iteration also included Tre’shon Devones and Jason White, both of which were injured and missed the season. Still, the relatively unassuming three-star signee from Iona Prep I’m New York was prepared to make a name for himself in Houston.
Regardless of who was ahead of him, Dunbar climbed, ascending past Andrew Bird and Lamont Narcisse until he reached what would eventually become a core three: Dunbar, McCord and Sean Fresch.
As Dunbar worked, eyeballs started to turn his way. They kept following him as coaches and players alike began to take notice of his development through a trying COVID year and into fall camp prior to the 2021 season. He might have been the most praised defensive player in fall camp and that glowing attention extended to the head coach himself.
“I think the whole [fall] camp, we’ve noticed how improved Jordan Dunbar is and how comfortable he is in this defense, and that’s been so fun for me to watch,” Bloomgren noted in the lead up to the season. “I don’t know if we have anybody in the program that’s grown more from one year to the next than Jordan Dunbar.”
When the season arrived, it was Dunbar’s turn to shine. And for as much respect as he received during the weeks prior to the season, the young cover man delivered. He was named the starter for the Rice football season opener against Arkansas and lined up opposite future first-round NFL Draft selection Treylon Burks. And Dunbar held his own.
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Fellow redshirt freshman Sean Fresch and Miles McCord battled it out for the other starting corner spot on the other side of the field, but Dunbar more or less was the first man to trot out onto the grass each and every Saturday.
From a scout team defensive back to CB1, Dunbar took advantage of his opportunity, leading all Owls’ in passes defended with seven in 12 games. His 29 tackles led all Rice corners. He wasn’t perfect, but for all the woes the Rice secondary battled throughout the year, Dunbar was one of the brightest spots.
In part because of the Owls’ coverage schemes as well as Dunbar’s own savvy, some of his best contributions are plays that didn’t make any highlight reels. His ability to take the outside receiver out of the play was superb. Few balls went over his head and when they did, he was usually sprinting stride for stride alongside its intended target, forcing receivers to make extremely difficult grabs.
Bloomgren again singled out Dunbar following the Owls’ Week 10 game against Charlotte, mentioning in his routine midweek press conference that Dunbar was among a select few players that might have “had their best performance in a Rice uniform.”
Dunbar took the comments in stride. “It means a lot to me because of how far I’ve come,” Dunbar said.”I’ve just had so much progression mentally and physically at this program. It means a lot to see your head coach give you a compliment like that.”
But that wasn’t quite the end of Dunbar’s humble acceptance of Bloomgren’s praise. His growth, and specifically the steps he believes he needs to take to continue to improve were at the forefront of his mind. He says he’s come a long way in his understanding of the scheme, learning how to watch film and refining the more mundane things like practice habits.
In some ways, he’s only scratched the surface of who he can be as a Rice football player. And that might be the best aspect Dunbar brings to the team right now. He’s a freshman starter hungry to grow. And the sky might just be his limit.