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Soccer star reflects on goals, career

(09/09/15 3:31pm)

Aside from her 5-foot-10-inch frame, senior soccer player Lauren Hughes’ most distinguishing feature on the soccer pitch is the number seven stamped across her jersey. Her number, typically reserved for an attacking soccer player, fits her play style perfectly. She nervously laughs as she explains that her number decision was not a soccer decision, but rather one Hughes made at a young age in an effort to replicate her older brother’s teammate and her first crush. “I have two older brothers who both played hockey and I would always go to their games,” Hughes said. “There was a guy on my oldest brother’s team, and he was my first crush and biggest crush ever. It came time to pick our soccer numbers and I decided to wear number seven because [he] was number seven.” As soon as she started playing soccer, her coaches saw potential for a future career in the sport. Hughes said she quickly fell in love with the game and soon after made her first competitive team at age eight.“When I was 10 years old, I had a coach who pulled me and my mom aside and said ‘Lauren can go as far as she wants with soccer,’” Hughes said. “That’s when I was realized I could go play soccer or go play pro.”An interconnected chain of opportunity and coincidence took Hughes from Ottawa to Houston for her college soccer career. Her road to Rice began when her club team, the Ottawa Fury, competed in Florida during her sophomore year of high school. There, John Adams, an assistant coach at Houston Baptist University, saw Hughes play and contacted her. The following year, Adams became an assistant coach at Rice and led the way for Hughes to join the Owls’ soccer team. Hughes decided to come to Rice without ever stepping foot on campus, a move Hughes said was “a huge leap of faith.” According to Hughes, the decision to come to Rice was not very informed.“At first I had never heard of Rice but my dad and I looked into it together,” Hughes said. “I didn’t even have an unofficial visit, which is unheard of.”Hughes said the academic reputation of Rice was a primary concern as she worried about the workload and difficulty of the university. “Academically, I was really nervous,” Hughes said. “Obviously, athletes have a different standard to get into Rice. I found the transition academically to be fine. I am challenged but I am not in over my head.”Hughes quickly impressed players and coaches around the conference and began her stockpile of awards. She was named to the All-Conference USA second team and shared the team’s Rookie of the Year Award with teammate Holly Hargreaves during her freshman year. She followed up with an impressive sophomore year performance in which she was named to the All-Conference USA first team. In her junior year, she led the conference with 14 goals en route to another All-Conference season and a Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year award. According to Hughes, the Offensive Player of Year award is especially important to her due to the process through which rival coaches vote to select it.“Last year, winning Offensive Player of the Year was really cool because it is an award that the coaches in your conference vote on,” Hughes said. “It is cool to know that I am respected as a player in this conference.”Hughes has already left her mark on the Rice record books and is the current all-time leader in goals scored with a current total of 36 and almost a full season left to go.She said holding school records is a significant personal achievement, but she hopes future players will strive to one day pass her.“It’s just great to be able to make an impact on the program,” Hughes said. “And I hope people come in and break my records.” Nicky Adams, the head coach since 2011, has coached Hughes throughout her college career at Rice. Assistant Coach Allison Martino has also been a large influence on Hughes’ soccer game, especially her current transition to occasionally occupying the midfield role, where the Owls have not found a permanent starter after the departure of players such as Quinny Truong (Will Rice ’14). According to Hughes, she credits her coaches for her level of success at Rice.“Ever since I got to Rice, Nicky and Allison have challenged me to be a big player and win awards and break records,” Hughes said. “Nicky is so passionate and it is awesome. I have never seen anyone love the game of soccer so much. Allison has also been helping me learn the role ofmidfielder more.”Hughes, a Will Rice College senior, said the residential college system has complemented her student athlete experience at Rice.“I love Will Rice,” Hughes said. “I think the college system is so awesome because there are so many people I wouldn’t have been able meet. Some of my best friends are people I matriculated with at Will Rice and I never would have met them if it weren’t for the college system. I just would have been in the athlete bubble.” Hughes also said the college system, particularly at her college, supports athletes with a fan base and a culture of inclusivity.“Athletes for the most part do a good job of being around and Will Rice does a good job of supporting its athletes,” Hughes said. “There are always Will Ricers at our games and I love going to Will Rice for meals. This is my first year not living at Will Rice but Will Rice has made me want to come back and hang out.”As she looks to graduate with a double major in sport management and sociology and a minor in poverty, justice and human capabilities, Hughes said she is looking to play professional soccer after graduation before pursuing a career in her academic field. “I think I’m going to try to keep playing soccer,” Hughes said. “I am going to be only 21 when I graduate and I don’t want to get settled down and rooted into a career and regret not trying to pursue soccer.”However, Hughes said she is still not certain in her long-term plans after a summer playing for a Christian soccer team in North Carolina, during which she began to strongly consider a life in sports or youth ministry.“This year, I have definitely been questioning whether that is what I want to do,” Hughes said. “I am thinking that after soccer, I may want to get into ministry. I never would have thought I would have wanted to go into that before this summer, but it was super rewarding and something I could totally see myself doing.”For now, she is working toward her plans of playing in a European women’s soccer league, as playing soccer in the U.S. would require her to leave Rice before graduating. According to Hughes, she would play in a semi-pro league until the European league’s signing period in August. “I want to play in Europe and don’t have much of a desire to play women’s pro soccer in the U.S.,” Hughes said. “I’ve always wanted to travel so why not use soccer? I think that’s the plan, but who knows?”Hughes and the rest of the Rice soccer team will look to continue their five-game unbeaten streak beginning Sept. 11 against the University of Dayton.

Former Owl ascends to majors

(08/27/15 12:41pm)

Just three years ago, Tyler Duffey was learning to adjust to his new role as a the closer of the Rice Owls baseball team. Today, Duffey is impressing fans and analysts everywhere with his performance as the newest starting pitcher of the Minnesota Twins. Duffey led an illustrious three-year career at Rice, where he was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2011 Conference USA tournament. A Houston native, Duffey was drafted by the Twins in 2012 in the fifth round with the 160th overall pick. From there, Duffey has moved far from Texas with minor league spells in Tennessee, Iowa, Florida, Connecticut and New York. He began the 2015 baseball season splitting time between Twins minor league affiliates Chattanooga (AA) and Rochester (AAA) where he posted a 2.56 ERA in 22 starts. Whenø veteran pitcher Tommy Milone suffered an elbow injury, the Twins decided to pass over the more experienced pitcher Trevor May as well as their 2012 first round pick, Jose Berrios. Duffey earned his first major league chance with the call up.On Aug. 5, Duffey saw his first MLB action against the Toronto Blue Jays. His first outing was difficult for the young pitcher as he gave up a two-run home run before he recorded an out in the first inning. He followed that by giving up a grand slam to six-time all-star Jose Bautista in the second inning.After a disappointing first start, Duffey received another chance 10 days later against the Cleveland Indians. This time, he held maintained control with a performance in which he allowed only one hit and no runs in six innings, while striking out seven batters. He followed up another win against Baltimore where he led the way to a 15-2 routing of the Orioles.Duffey’s quick rise from a fifth-round pick has turned the heads in Minnesota, where he is particularly lauded for his curveball as he continues to make his case for keeping his starting job. Duffey is projected for his next start on Wednesday, Aug. 26 against Tampa Bay.

Swimming finishes second in C-USA Tournament

(02/25/15 10:03am)

Under the lights of Allan Jones Aquatic Center at the University of Tennessee, the Rice University women’s swimming team competed in the Conference USA championships Feb. 18-21. Aiming for their third straight title victory, the Owls fell short to Florida International University, who won their first C-USA title. Florida International finished with 765 points, followed by Rice with 661.5. Western Kentucky University placed third with 645, followed by Marshall University, North Texas University, Florida Atlantic University and Old Dominion University. Rice Head Coach Seth Huston said his team improved from last year’s championship, but simply could not keep up with FIU’s team this year.“Florida International really had a great team this year,” Huston said. “They just had a lot of firepower. I thought we swam awesome, and in a lot of ways better than last year, but it just wasn’t good enough.”In the 200 medley relay, the first event of the meet, Rice began with a first place finish and new school record in 1:38.11, only .61 seconds faster than the second-place Western Kentucky relay. The next morning, after Thursday’s prelims session, the relay swam a time trial to attempt to get an NCAA “A Cut” and automatically qualify for the National Championship Meet. The same group of four broke the same record they had set the night before, and clocked in at 1:37.04. The relay qualified for the first time since 2001.Huston said the victory was significant for Rice’s swimming legacy.“We’ve had some individuals go [to NCAAs] over the years, but not relays,” Huston said. “For a small or mid-major school, it is pretty hard to have four high-end swimmers get together and qualify for NCAAs. Not too many schools this size achieve that.”Individually, several Owls swam career bests. Senior Casey Clark broke her own school record to win her third straight individual title, swimming the 100-yard butterfly in 51.93 seconds. The time automatically qualified her for the NCAA Championship meet. Her fellow senior teammate, Erin Flanigan, also won her third consecutive individual title. Flanigan won the mile, or 1650, freestyle.Huston said senior Madison Livingston performed better than ever before. She finished sixth in the 400-yard individual medley (4:21.27), fifth in the 100-yard breaststroke (1:02.92) and seventh in the 200-yard breaststroke (2:16.72)“I was really happy with Madison Livingston,” Huston said. “She had the best meet of her career.”Several underclassmen also contributed to the Owls’ second-place finish. Freshmen Alicia Caldwell and Kiley Beall highlighted the strong performance of the freshman class in the meet. Caldwell’s highest finish was second in the 100 backstroke (53.48). She was also fourth in the 100 freestyle (50.07) and sixth in the 50 freestyle (23.06). Beall also reached the finals in all three of her events, including a school record in the 200 backstroke (1:57.39). According to Huston, Caldwell and Beall deserved special recognition.“Alicia Caldwell was just really good,” Huston said. “Every time [Beall] got in the water, she seemed to get faster.”This year, the Owls performed well in a group of relays — especially the 200- and 400-yard medley relays, which consist of all four strokes. Alicia Caldwell swam the backstroke leadoff leg; Rachel Moody then swam the second breaststroke leg followed by Casey Clark swimming butterfly. Marissa Konicke anchored the relays with her freestyle swim. The 400 medley relay was disqualified due to an early start in the backstroke-to-breaststroke transition. By diving in .07 seconds early, Conference USA automatically disqualified the relay and the Owls lost 40 points.Huston said the 40-point loss was unfortunate, but did not take away from the Owls’ performance.“From an emotional standpoint, it was definitely a bummer, but I think we moved on real quick,” Huston said. “You can’t take away how absolutely incredible they swam, and we weren’t going to let a 0.07 of a second early departure ruin what was otherwise one of our best sessions. So the next day we came back and were just as good or better.”The Owls also competed without a diving team, which cost the team points. Florida International accumulated 79 points from the diving competition.The Owls plan to continue swimming in postseason meets. Much of the team will be swimming next weekend in a time trial meet to attempt to make qualifying cuts for meets such as the NCAA Championships. Usually, the top 36 swimmers in the country make the NCAA Championships in individual events. Swimmers such as Moody and Flanigan are looking to swim well next week to join Clark in the individual events.Following the NCAA Championships and the CSCAA National Invitational Meets, both of which will be held in late March, the team will look to rebuild after losing its senior class. However, the freshman class, which scored approximately a third of the Owls’ points at the meet, looks to continue Rice’s recent history of success. Huston said the loss of seniors will hurt the team, but the future is in good hands. “We graduate almost half of our points,” Huston said. “Even though we have our work cut out for us, I feel really good about the swimmers coming back and the passionate commitment that they bring. I’mnot worried.”

The bat: John Clay Reeves

(02/11/15 7:12am)

John Clay Reeves has finally found a baseball home at Rice University. Coming from Monroe, Louisiana, the Owls’ starting catcher played his first two seasons at the University of Arkansas and Navarro College, respectively, but has finally established himself at Reckling Park. Last season, his first season as an Owl, was Reeves’s breakthrough year in which he recorded a .317 batting average led the Owls to another conference championship and earned him a collection of individual accolades. He was named the Conference USA Newcomer of the Year in addition to being a second team All-Conference USA honoree. Reeves played his freshman year at the University of Arkansas, where he helped the Razorbacks reach the College World Series as a true freshman. However, due to a crowded depth chart at catcher, he transferred to Navarro College after the season. According to Reeves, he enjoyed his time at Arkansas but felt he could achieve greater accomplishments at other programs.“Arkansas was a great experience for me my freshman year,” Reeves, a McMurtry College senior, said. “I had some great times and got to learn from a great catching coach, but I was splitting time and it was best for me to move on.”At Navarro, Reeves led his team to the Junior College World Series while posting a .367 batting average. After completing his junior college year, he landed at Rice.Reeves said ending up at Rice was a dream come true.“Not many people want to pass up the opportunity to come to Rice and play for a great coach in Wayne Graham,” Reeves said. “I thank God every day that he gave me the opportunity to be on a team like this.” After sustaining a hip injury last season, he had surgery on June 26 to begin his rehabilitation. He missed fall baseball practice as part of his five-month recovery process. Reeves said he has been aggressively training to get back into top-tier baseball form since mid-November.“I have been hitting it real hard,” Reeves said. “I have been catching and hitting as much as I can to get ready for the season and handle all these great pitchers that we have. I want to put up some of the same numbers I put up last year and maybe improve since I am healthier this year.”Reeves is focusing on fixing the last season’s mistakes. Despite his all-conference-caliber numbers from last year, he believes there is plenty of room for improvement,  for both himself and the team. Primarily, Reeves said the team needs to do a better job taking each game with the same intensity. “I want to have a good season, not only for myself but for my teammates,” Reeves said. “We want to take each game one at a time and win the series every weekend.”Head Coach Wayne Graham is also looking forward to another impressive season from Reeves, whom he named Most Valuable Player of the team last year. According to Graham, Reeves has a chance to improve his performance from last season due to his improved health.“He played hurt [last season] and he played well and called a great game,” Graham said. “He has a chance to have a great year. He is just a fine and intelligent player.”In addition to his hitting prowess, with his six home runs and 41 RBIs in 2014, much of Reeves’s contribution to the Owls comes from his job as a game-managing catcher. Reeves said he works closely with the Owls’ top-tier pitching staff and is entrusted by Coach Graham to call the pitches in games.“As a catcher, I want to be able to lead our pitching staff and help call pitches,” Reeves said. “I can’t say enough about this pitching staff. We have so many good pitchers on this team.”This year, Reeves will have some defensive help with junior Hunter Kopycinski ready to take on some of the load at the catcher position. According to Reeves, Kopycinski has shown promise and will be able to fill in for him, if needed.“Toward the end [of last season], I got a little tired,” Reeves said. “This year we have Hunter Kopycinski to share some of the games at catcher. He’s been playing great and had a great fall.”With Kopycinski ready to share the load, Graham said Reeves and Kopycinksi would be splitting games defensively at catcher. When not catching, Reeves will be the team’s designated hitter, replacing the pitcher in the batting lineup.“Reeves will always bat in the lineup,” said Graham. “Kopycinski is hitting better but will not always be in the lineup.”Reeves’s goal is to return to the College World Series in Omaha for the first time since his freshman year at Arkansas, and he said he believes this team has the ability to achieve their objective.“I think this is a great team and a great group of guys,” Reeves said. “This is a team that does have potential to go to Omaha.”Reeves, who is entering his final year of eligibility, said he is looking to play professionally after this year. He said his goal is to continue to play baseball and someday continue working in the field as a coach.“I want to try to play baseball as long as I can like every guy in that locker room,” Reeves said. “Eventually coaching is something that I think I have a lot of passion for. These coaches here have done nothing but great things for me.”Reeves, a sports management major, said he is also thankful for the academic value that his Rice experience has given him. He has been working hard in the classroom to make up for the 30 hours he lost when he transferred. Named to the C-USA All-Academic Team last year, Reeves will walk at graduation, but will be six credits short of a diploma.“Rice does a lot of great things for you other than athletics,” Reeves said. “It is a great school for academics, which is another reason I came here. It has given me the opportunity to have some great internships through our sports management program.”Reeves looks to stay healthy and be on the lineup card for the entire season as he enters his final year as a college athlete, having found a place in which he could excel.“There is no better place to me than Rice,” Reeves said. “It really has been a blessing to have the opportunity to play here and I could not be more thankful.”

Casey Clark qualifies for US Olympic Trials

(02/04/15 3:46pm)

Casey Clark excels in both the classroom and in the swimming pool. The Baker College senior will be graduating in May with a degree in civil and environmental engineering and already has a job lined up with Shell. With her friendly personality and relaxed conversational style, anyone speaking with her would not expect her to be the same person whose competitive drive and skill makes her one of the most accomplished swimmers in Rice history.Clark began swimming competitively year-round at the age of nine, but in about two months, her demanding schedule of two-a-day practices and traveling for meets might be over. She says the reality of the impending shock of not swimming competitively again has not hit her yet.“[Swimming] has been such a large part of my life,” Clark said. “Swimming takes so much time and it becomes your identity. People know me as ‘the swimmer.’”From the moment she came to Rice as a graduate of Klein High School, 45 minutes north of Rice, she took the pool by storm and made an immediate contribution to the Owl’s swim team. She shared the team’s Rookie of the Year award, won three individual bronze medals and broke a Rice record in her first season as an Owl.That summer, Clark competed in the United States Olympic Team Trials. Commonly referred to as “Trials,” the meet is held every four years before the Summer Olympics to select the participants for the U.S. swim team. Clark competed in those Trials in both the 100-meter butterfly and the 200-meter freestyle.According to Clark, her goal was to achieve Olympic Trials cuts in order to compete in more events at the meet and simply enjoy the experience.“Obviously, going into Olympic Trials, I didn’t think I was going to make the team,” Clark said. “It was more about the experience of going and trying to maximize the amount of swims there.”Clark said despite not placing very highly, she recalls the thrill of competing on one of the highest stages.“It was really cool to just be at that high-profile meet,” Clark said. “They had fireworks on the pool deck and everything. It was just cool to be in a setting in which swimming was getting the attention that I feel other sports get.”In a long-course meters (Olympic-size 50- meter pool) meet in Austin two weeks ago, Clark posted two lifetime best marks in the 100-meter freestyle (57.08) and the 100-meter butterfly (1:00.42), the latter being an Olympic Trials cut. Despite qualifying for the Olympic Trials once again, Clark is leaning toward not competing in the meet once again in 2016. According to Clark, going to the Trials would require her to train rigorously for over a year more than she would otherwise. “It is kind of a tricky situation because I am graduating in May and I accepted a job in New Orleans,” Clark said. “With that, I don’t think I would be able to train or compete at the level that I need to be at.”However, Clark said she has not completely shut the door on swimming in Omaha with the nation’s best once again in July 2016. “I am just going to start working, but I could take a couple months off and then train again,” Clark said. “If I decide that it is something I can do, then I might.”Clark’s current focus, however, remains her college meets which take place in a short-course yards competition pool. While international meets such as the Olympics take place in 50-meter pools, most meets in the United States occur in 25-yard pools, which make for faster times due to the differences with the metric system and the larger number of turns in the races.Right now, Clark is working on tapering, or gradually beginning to rest, for the Conference USA Championship Meet in Knoxville, Tennessee on Feb. 18-21 and for the NCAA Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina a month later. As possibly the only Owls swimmer to compete in both meets, Clark said she has to find a way to be rested yet prepared.“I am sort of half-tapering for conference and half-tapering for national,” Clark said. “Just points-wise, it does not make sense for me to not be rested and conference and not try to swim at the top level, but at the same time, I can’t put all of my eggs in that basket and not do well at nationals.”Clark is looking forward to bringing back a second consecutive conference championship to Rice. In last year’s meet where she was named the Swimmer of the Meet, the Owls won the conference. This year, she said it will be much more difficult to attain that level of success.“Our conference is going to be way more challenging,” Clark said. “Last year we won it handily by about 300 points. It is going to be a lot more challenging, but we are definitely a stronger team this year.”With a conference championship meet, NCAA championships and even possibly another Olympic Trials left for her, she currently sits atop the Rice swimming record books with individual school records in the 100 yard freestyle (49.26), 100 backstroke (53.86), 200 freestyle (1:45.69), 200 butterfly (1:57.28) and in her favorite event, the 100 butterfly (52.70). In addition, she has been a member of four of the school’s five record setting relays. Clark said it might take another record-breaking swim for her to attain her goal of reaching the finals at the NCAA championships this year.“I’ve been twice before but I didn’t make finals,” Clark said. “My goal is to final and score points at NCAAs.”

Tennis continues strong start to new season

(01/28/15 7:44am)

This weekend, the no. 75 ranked Rice University men’s tennis team played three non-conference matches to bring their overall record to 3-2. On Friday, the Owls swept both games of a doubleheader against the University of the Incarnate Word and the University of Texas, Pan American. Then on Sunday, the Owls lost a close matchup against Old Dominion University 4-2. Friday’s matches were moved indoors to the Downtown Club due to rainy conditions. With the matches held indoors, singles took place first. The Owls won all but one of the 25 sets of the day en route to two victories against in-state opponents.Sunday’s match was once again held at the George R. Brown Tennis Center. Facing conference opponent Old Dominion University, the Owls started with an early lead after winning the doubles portion of the match. However, singles proved to be a much larger challenge for the Owls as they dropped four of the five finished matches to the Monarchs with the lone win coming from junior Adam Gustaffson on court four. Rice Head Coach Efe Ustundag said his team could not capitalize on the lead that they opened with after winning five of the first six sets of the day. “[Old Dominion] is a team that fights,” Ustundag said. “They are going to find ways to get back into those matches and that is exactly what happened.”Ustundag said the team was not aggressive enough in singles play to overtake the Monarchs.“We kept playing, hoping for them to give it to us,” Ustundag said. “We didn’t go and take it from them.”The Owls have now lost two matches –against the University of Texas, San Antonio and Old Dominion. Both games were close home losses against conference opponents.The Owls will now travel to Starkville, Mississippi to face off against no. 21 Mississippi State and no. 48 Texas Tech University. These two teams will be the highest-ranked opponents that the Owls have faced this season so far.According to Ustundag, the team must get used to the season’s increasing difficulty.“Now the competition gets even harder,” Ustundag said. “Our job is going to get tougher and tougher.”Despite being ranked lower than the teams that they will face next weekend, Ustundag said he is confident that the Owls can keep pace with the best of them.“I don’t think there is too much of a difference between us and the teams we are about to play,” Ustundag said. “It is a matter of who converts and who does a better job putting away matches.”

Men's tennis opens at home

(01/21/15 2:44pm)

The newly constructed George R. Brown Tennis Center hosted its first official matches this weekend as the Rice men’s tennis team begins its 2015 season. On Friday, the Owls (1-1) lost 4-3 to the University of Texas, San Antonio (1-1). On Sunday, the Owls defeated Cornell University (1-1) 4-1.At the beginning of Friday’s game, the UTSA Roadrunners won the doubles round and the Owls were unable to come back. Sophomore Zach Yablon, freshman Jamie Malik and sophomore David Warren won their singles matches, but senior Srikar Alla could not hang on to a 4-1 lead in the third set against UTSA senior Thomas Stillman. Stillman went on to win the match 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (8), and the Roadrunners clinched the 4-3 victory.On Sunday, the Owls faced off against nationally-ranked No. 60 Cornell University. The Owls took control and won the match when Alla delivered the clinching point against Cornell senior Sam Fleck. Head coach Efe Ustundag said the Owls were disappointed after losing their home opener in Rice’s new venue.“The nerves just got too much out of us,” Ustundag said. “The energy that was built up since last semester just came out differently than we had hoped for.”According to Ustundag, the team was able to rebound on Sunday by focusing less on previous mistakes and more on what could be improved.“We got better at not letting those opportunities that got away from us affect us,” Ustundag said. “Today, having that first match out of the way, we could come out and focus on the small details like the energy and intensity.” According to Ustundag, the Owls have a long a way to go before they can consistently compete with teams like Cornell’s.“We still [need] a lot of improvements,” Ustundag said. “I think this was a nice preview of how good we can be when we are clicking on all cylinders.”The $8 million George R. Brown Center differs in its design from the Owls’ previous home at the Jake Hess Tennis Stadium. Instead of having a concentrated seating area around the center court, the new center allows fans to move from one court to another as dictated by the play.Ustundag said the fan-friendly design contributed to the Owls’ success.“I think it’s phenomenal,” Ustundag said. “Just being able to turn around and have four guys and three roommates of each [player] just standing right behind them and supporting and pushing, I feel like it makes a huge difference.”The Owls now go on to face another two games next weekend against Incarnate Word University on Friday and Old Dominion University on Sunday.

Covington to forgo final season for NFL Draft

(01/14/15 10:36am)

Redshirt junior defensive tackle Christian Covington has decided to forgo his senior year and declare for the NFL Draft. Covington is a native of Vancouver, Canada and three-year starter for the Owls. He is on track to graduate in May.Covington is projected to be a late round draft pick by after missing most of the season due to injury. On Nov. 1, he sustained another injury when he dislocated his left kneecap against Florida International University. This injury required surgery and sidelined him for the remainder of the season. In the seven games he played this season, Covington recorded 20 tackles, four tackles for loss and three sacks. In his 2013 All-Conference USA season, Covington recorded 59 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and four sacks, including a memorable sack of Texas A&M University quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. At the time of injury, his timetable for return was six months, which would keep him out of play until April. He projects to be unavailable for the NFL Combine in February and Rice’s Pro Day, which is usually held in March. The 6-foot-3, 300-pound Covington entered the 2014-15 season as a consensus All-Conference USA selection. Early mock drafts and draft projections expected him to enter the draft after this season. He received some late first round and second round chatter from various draft analysts including CBS Sport’s Dane Bugler, who compared his skill set to that of former Florida State University defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, who was drafted in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft. After the injury setbacks that he suffered this year, however, his spot in mock drafts has fallen significantly. projects him as a 5th round pick. He is currently rated the seventh best defensive tackle in the draft by CBS Sports. Covington asked for an evaluation from the NFL Draft Advisory Board, which issues one of three grades to underclassmen prospects — first- round projection, second-round, or a recommendation to stay in school for another year. According to the Houston Chronicle, Covington received a recommendation to stay in school for another year. The change is part of an effort from the NFL to urge underclassmen to stay in school longer after an all-time high of 98 underclassmen declared for last year’s draft. In an official statement released by Covington, he thanked the football program, his coaches, friends and teammates for his time at Rice.“I want to thank Rice University and the Rice football program for the honor and privilege of suiting up for the Owls,” Covington said. “My four years at Rice have marked some of the best years of my life, and I am truly blessed to have been able to attend such a prestigious university with amazing people and play with such incredible teammates.”Covington, whose decision to forgo his senior year could cost him a significant difference in his draft selection and rookie contract, said his choice was not easy or taken lightly by him.“The decision for me to leave was not an easy one,” Covington said. “Through the help of a lot of prayer and the help of family, my decision to declare became clear.”For the Rice football team, this means another starting spot to fill for Defensive Coordinator Chris Thurmond, who will lose seven other defensive starters to graduation. According to Thurmond, Covington’s departure will be a setback for the team, but the defense will adjust and prepare for next season with other personnel.“We’ll just continue to move forward,” Thurmond said. “ Any time you lose good players, it is just something that is part of the business and something you have to deal with.”Thurmond, who learned of Covington’s decision in the days following the 30-6 victory over Fresno State University in the Hawai’i Bowl, said he believes that Covington is ready for the challenges of the NFL.“Christian is a talented guy,” Thurmond said. “He has good athletic ability and I’m sure he’ll make a place for himself.”If Covington is selected in the NFL draft, which will be held April 30 through May 2, it will mark the fourth consecutive year that a Rice player is selected. Covington is the first player to leave early for the draft since tight end James Casey in 2009.