2020 Rice Player Spotlight: JUCO teammates

Courtesy Rice athletics

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Just as Rice University, with its small size and occasionally offbeat culture, is an outlier among Football Bowl Subdivision programs, roommates Blaze Alldredge, Naeem Smith and Bradley Rozner are unique figures on Rice’s South Main campus.

All are junior college transfers — Alldredge from Celebration, Fla., by way of Pierce College in Los Angeles, Smith from Iowa City, Iowa, and Ellsworth (Iowa) JC and Rozner from Cisco College after graduating from Needville High School in Fort Bend County. 

Rice has rarely recruited JC players, but these have excelled: Rozner with 55 catches last year and second-team all-conference honors, Smith with 50 tackles and two interceptions and Alldredge with all-conference honors to go with a 3.567 GPA as a political science major.

Rozner and Smith roomed together as new arrivals last fall but after the season moved off campus to live with Alldredge, a senior-to-be and, in his words, “the man of the house.”

“Stop lying,” Smith replied.

Alldredge met Rice coach Mike Bloomgren when Bloomgren, then at Stanford, recruited him out of high school. He opted for junior college when FBS offers didn’t materialize, and Bloomgren came calling again after the move to Rice.

“The biggest adjustment was how structured everything is. Every hour of your day is planned,” Alldredge said. “Rice is smaller than my junior college was, and it’s a unique atmosphere that feels more like a family, from faculty to students to athletes.

“Coach Bloom looks everywhere for talent. We’ve all laid the groundwork to get more junior college guys in here.”

Smith had only Division II offers out of high school and got a chance at Rice through one of his junior college coaches. Rozner was a multi-sport athlete at Needville who turned to football after a senior year growth spurt, oddly enough, soured him on basketball.

Having started elsewhere, all three appreciate the perks of an FBS scholarship.

“You always remember those days of maybe not having the best cafeteria food or the best facilities,” Rozner said. “When you walk into the Brian Patterson Performance Center, it’s an amazing feeling. You have that sense of knowing how far you’ve come and how hard work has paid off, and you just want to keep pushing forward.”

Alldredge said he was almost moved to tears when his dreams of playing for an FBS program were fulfilled.

“That feeling hasn’t left me,” he said. “When coach Bloom told me last year that I had been added to the Nagurski Award watch list, I was choked up by the honor and that coaches believed in me enough to let me show them what I can do.

“There isn’t a day when I’m not appreciative of it. I can’t afford to take anything for granted.”

As for his roommates, their bond was bolstered by their enforced social distancing this spring, when Alldredge returned to California, Smith to Iowa and Rozner to Needville as Rice switched to remote classes and the team to daily meetings via the Zoom app.

“I miss my boys,” Alldredge said. “I think the team as a whole misses each other. But we have that overall sense of camaraderie and being locked in. 

“The excitement from last year (when Rice closed with three consecutive wins) helps us stay focused through this whole situation.”

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