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Football adds defensive talent through recruitment


By Ben Baker-Katz     3/31/20 7:02pm

As Rice football turns its sights on the 2020 season, the first step to take is to bring in a strong recruiting class and improve from the past years’. Recruitment has been a challenge for the Owls in the past, with their 2018 and 2019 recruiting classes being ranked nationally at 112 and 111 respectively, according to 247 Sports

The Owls finished its 2019 season with a 3-9 C-USA record, an improvement over its 2-11 record from 2018. In head coach Mike Bloomgren’s second year with the program, the Owls started off the season 0-9, before rattling off three straight conference victories to end the year.

The 2020 recruiting class, which is currently ranked at 93 in the country, shows improvement from years past. Bloomgren attributes this to the intentional nature of the program’s recruiting approach. 

“Quality over quantity; we like to live by the mantra that we at Rice hunt with a rifle, not a shotgun,” Bloomgren said. “We were able to back that up by extending only 70 offers, which tied with Northwestern for the fewest in the 2020 class. With a smaller senior class, we knew that we would not be signing a full class. All but one of our signees was rated a three-star recruit and we were able to sign the highest-rated class in school history.”

According to Bloomgren, the main problem the team needed to address this offseason was the offensive line. The team added three true tackles and one lineman who can play both guard and tackle in this year’s recruiting class.

Despite the focus on the offensive, the headliners of this year’s class came on the defensive side of the ball. Two of the Owl’s biggest additions this offseason are safety Gabe Taylor from Miami and defensive end Jalen Reeves from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

“Being selective and choosy with our defensive numbers was critical to building the class,” Bloomgren said. “We held slots open heading into the fall and were able to land big-time talents.”

Taylor is the younger brother of former Washington Redskin Sean Taylor, who was met with an untimely death in 2007. The younger Taylor, who hadn’t played football since the eighth grade, picked off 10 passes his senior year and returned five for touchdowns. Taylor was also a high school basketball star, who was nominated for the 2020 McDonalds All-American Game. Taylor is the highest-rated recruit in Rice history.

Reeves was a three-time all-state selection, who finished his senior year with 60 tackles, 30 of which were for a loss (including 14 sacks). He also blocked a pair of field goals and forced two fumbles. Reeves chose Rice over Power 5 schools such as North Carolina State University, University of Pittsburgh and Boston College. 

The biggest hole the Owls have to fill this offseason is at running back, as they watched 71 percent of the team’s touchdown production, 64 percent of their rushing yards and 60 percent of their rush attempts graduate in the form of Aston Walter, Charlie Booker and Nahshon Ellerbe, according to Bloomgren. But Bloomgren also said their prospective replacements are already on the depth chart.

“Most of the candidates to replace that trio [of graduating running backs] are already on our team and have done an incredible job of developing over the offseason,” Bloomgren said. “Despite spring ball getting cut short, we were very excited about the progress made by Juma Otoviano, Cam Montgomery and Ari Broussard.”

Overall, Bloomgren said he is pleased with the progress his team made in recruitment this offseason and is excited for the team to get back together over the summer.

“By being very intentional in the initial conversations and interactions, our staff does a great job of identifying recruits,” Bloomgren said. “From our full-time coaches to our awesome support staff led by our Director of Recruiting Alex Brown, everyone plays their part and is brought into our recruiting process. We march to the same beat, speak the same language and that enables us to dive deeper into the relationship aspect of recruiting, which is where the battles are won.”

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