Peyton Stevenson was a bright light during an up-down season for special teams and our 2023 Rice Football Special Teams Player of the Year.
Outside of the punter, kicker and return men, those who play special teams seldom get name recognition. Although there are 10 other men on the field, the non-specialists who make the rest of the play possible don’t get the limelight very often, with rare exceptions. One of those shining standouts this season was Peyton Stevenson, our 2023 Rice Football Special Teams Player of the Year.
A wide receiver when he arrived on campus, Stevenson converted to safety this past season. While learning a new position during the spring, it was special teams where he really found his niche. Stevenson was a standout member of multiple block and coverage teams and rose through the ranks quickly.
When special teams coordinator Pete Alamar arrived on campus, Stevenson’s fresh start was met with fresh eyes.
“I purposefully did not watch a bunch of their film. I didn’t look at their depth chart,” Alamar said this spring. “I want to see them out here. I want to evaluate them based on what I see.”
What Alamar saw in Stevenson was an irreplaceable piece of his special teams fabric. By the time depth charts began to take shape in earnest, Stevenson was an integral part of the Rice special teams and someone Alamar and the coaching staff relied on to lead the unit. He and captain Chike Anigbogu became part of what Alamar liked to refer to as “four-teamers”, players utilized across four special teams units: kick off, punt, return and field goal.
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In the fall, Stevenson would help lead player-only meetings at the team hotel on Friday nights before the game. “They talk through everything,” head coach Mike Bloomgren said, lauding Stevenson and others for their dedication to their craft. The meetings weren’t required. It was just another of example of players caring deeply for their craft. And Stevenson was at the core.
It should have come as no surprise then when Stevenson’s preparation manifested itself on the football field. Stevenson blocked a PAT against UConn, keeping the Owls in a game that was in danger of going lopsided in a hurry. Then, a few weeks later, Stevenson blocked a punt against SMU that was recovered by a teammate for a Rice touchdown.
The blocked punt score was the first for the Owls since Sam McGuffie in 2012. It was Stevenson’s second blocked kick of any kind, a first for any Rice player since Christian Covington blocked a pair of kicks in 2013. Already in rarified air amongst Rice history, Stevenson was one of just four players in the country this season to have blocked both a punt and a place kick.
Following the season, Bloomgren would identify four key performers on special teams: Stevenson, Anigbogu, Sean Fresch and Geron Hargon.
Stevenson was never called upon for a postgame press conference. He didn’t get the attention other specialists did, for better or for worse. But he made Rice football special teams better every time he was on the field, perhaps just as much on the dozens of other routine plays when kicks weren’t blocked. The entire operation continued to soldier on, thanks in large part to Stevenson.
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