Head coach Mike Bloomgren completed his first recruiting class at Rice on Wednesday by signing 17 players to National Letters of Intent, a binding commitment to play football for Rice. The 17 players signed Wednesday add to the six players Rice acquired during the early signing period. Bloomgren said he is thrilled with the recruits set to join the Owls.
“We had to recruit guys that address our needs,” Bloomgren said. “But these are also guys that match our vision. They’re guys that match our academic profile. I think you’re going to see everything that I’ve talked to you guys about, from a passion standpoint, from a love-of-this-game standpoint and from a physicality standpoint. That’s going to jump out on film to you when you study these guys.”
Although 93 percent of the players currently on Rice’s roster are from Texas, only 70 percent of this recruiting class is, with it including players from eight different states. Bloomgren, who was Stanford University’s offensive coordinator before coming to Rice, said the coaching staff made an effort to expand its reach in recruiting.
“We wanted to set a tone with this class, where we want to maintain a strong presence within Texas while also extending our efforts throughout the country,” Bloomgren said.
Of the recruits that signed on Wednesday, seven play defense while 10 play offense. Eight of them are rated three star prospects by 247Sports, while the rest are two stars.
One of the defensive players is Prudy Calderon, a defensive back who spent much of the season playing quarterback for San Marcos High School. According to Bloomgren, his skills should translate well to the safety position.
“[Calderon] is an unbelievable athlete,” Bloomgren said. “When you take a quarterback that has that knowledge of the game and has those tools, and you put him at a spot like safety like we plan to do, you’ve got something really, really special.”
Bloomgren touted the physical play of many of the defenders, including linebacker Treshawn Chamberlain, defensive end Ikenna Enechukwu and defensive back Matthew Sams. Defensive coordinator Brian Smith said he is excited about the physicality of the incoming class.
“Physicality is the number one thing we are looking at in a player,” Smith said. “If he’s not physical on the defensive side of the ball, we don’t want him. It takes 11 guys on defense running to the football and tackling. We place a high priority on that.”
Linebacker Antonio Montero, linebacker Kebreyun Page and defensive end Cameron Valentine round out the Owls’ defensive recruits. Montero was Minnesota’s Mr. Football, the award for the state’s best high school football player. Bloomgren praised both Page and Valentine for their high energy and noted Page’s strong tackling.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Owls added three quarterbacks including Shawn Stankavage, a graduate transfer from Vanderbilt University. Stankavage was competing to start for Vanderbilt this past spring before tearing his ACL and missing the season. Bloomgren said he expects Stankavage to have a chance to compete for the starting quarterback job this fall.
“He’s a guy that was in the SEC and was a bad break away from maybe being the starting quarterback for Vanderbilt,” Bloomgren said. “I definitely think he’ll be able to come in and compete. Now, nobody is saying there’s anything wrong with the guys we have on campus, but we’re going to create depth and create competition and see where it takes us.”
The other two quarterbacks Rice signed are Wiley Green and Parker Towns. Green lost his starting job at Prestonwood Christian Academy during his junior year but competed and won back the job his senior year, leading his team to a state championship. Towns started for his Dallas Jesuit team his senior year and set school records with 3,581 passing yards and 250 completions.
The Owls also added two ball carriers, running back Juma Otoviano and fullback Jacob Doddridge. According to 247Sports, they are two of Rice’s five best recruits. Offensive coordinator Jerry Mack said he expects both players to make impacts early in their Rice careers.
“The hope is we can get them on the field sooner rather than later,” Mack said. “[Doddridge] can run the fullback dive, he can do some things out of the backfield and can help us in protection a lot early on in his career. [Otoviano] is dynamic with the ball in his hands...he’s a guy that can help us on special teams and on the offensive side of the ball.”
Two offensive line signings, Jake Syptak and Derek Ferraro, will try to protect Rice’s quarterbacks for the next four years. Syptak flipped his commitment from Southern Methodist University to Rice in January, and Ferraro comes to Rice from New Rochelle, New York. According to Mack, Bloomgren’s success developing offensive linemen at Stanford helped to recruit Syptak and Ferraro.
“If we don’t have guys that can block up front and protect our quarterback, it’s really going to be tough to move the ball,” Mack said. “There is no other offensive line coach that has more linemen in the NFL right now than Coach Bloomgren. Going to young men’s homes and talking to them about coming here and being trained by Coach Bloomgren, that’s key.”
Rice rounded out its class with three pass catchers in tight end Robert French and wide receivers Brendan Harmon and August Pitre III. Bloomgren said French is a good pass catching tight end who can also block well. At Stanford, Bloomgren’s offense relied heavily on pass catching tight ends. Harmon is a 6-foot-5 receiver who Bloomgren said impressed him with his speed, and Pitre made the All-State team in Louisiana and is the first-ever FBS recruit from his high school.
Rice will now turn its focus to the upcoming spring season and the start of recruiting its 2019 class. With a new coaching staff and a 23 new recruits coming in, the team will have a decidedly different look from last season. According to Bloomgren, Rice is building something special on South Main.
“I couldn’t be more excited about the direction of everything right now,” Bloomgren said.