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Under-the-radar no more: All eyes on Blaze Alldredge to be one of FBS’s best linebackers

As a junior college linebacker, Alldredge often wondered if he was good enough. Now the nation knows.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 22 Rice at Southern Miss Photo by Bobby McDuffie/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Several weeks into his freshman year at Los Angeles Pierce College, Blaze Alldredge sat in his dorm room, pondering packing his bags. It was time for a reflection — a reality check about his future on the gridiron.

“Maybe you’re not as good as you think you are,” Alldredge said to himself.

It’s a recurring thought that races through the minds of junior college football players. With hundreds of thousands of young men pursuing the same dream, it’s inevitable that success only translates into reality to some. Alldredge, enduring the defeat of zero FBS offers out of high school, had to determine if it was worth betting on his athletic abilities.

“It’s a talk everybody needs to have with himself,” Alldredge said. “It’s important to be realistic where you are and where you’re at, and I never wanted to be somebody that just held these irrational opinions of himself. I wanted to have a real life gut check, ask myself if it was worth it to keep going, and if I could achieve these dreams that I had.”

Ultimately, Alldredge decided to prolong his football career, and that investment is paying dividends. He landed at Rice University as a sophomore and carved out a starting role for himself over the latter half of that season. As a junior and full-time starter at outside linebacker, his progress skyrocketed. Alldredge petrified opposing backfields and accumulated 21.5 tackles for loss — the second-highest mark in the entire FBS during the 2019 season. Maintaining team-bests in total tackles (102) and sacks (4.0), Alldredge is not only a sensation in Conference USA. He’s on the national radar.

The incoming senior’s name was etched on every single preseason watchlist for which a linebacker can qualify. Alldredge is one of 51 linebackers on the Butkus Award watchlist, an award in search of the country’s best at the position.

“The Butkus is an award that every linebacker dreams of winning from a young age — the main one that you first know about,” Alldredge said. “I was driving to my internship when I found out about it and I got really emotional, being a guy who didn’t get a lot of attention out of high school and then went to junior college.”

He is also one of 90 defensive players on the Bednarik Award watchlist and one of 98 defensive players on the Nagurski Award watchlist — both awarded to college football’s best defensive player, but with separate selectors.

“It’s nice to have that type of validation, but with how far I’ve come, I’m not going to let something like this take that feeling away from me,” Alldredge said. “That’s been my motivation for a long time, when I sat there and said, ‘Maybe I’m not good enough.’”

Perhaps those words could have reiterated when the former JUCO prospect was situated as the third MIKE linebacker on the depth chart upon arriving at Rice. After showing positive progress in practice, Owls linebacker coach Scott Vestal switched Alldredge to second-string WILL linebacker. But when starting WILL linebacker Dylan Silcox was forced to sit out a game at Southern Miss with pneumonia, an opportunity to break through finally presented itself to Alldredge, and he capitalized with nine tackles and an interception.

“I definitely look back on that and cringe a little bit that I could have played a lot better, but I didn’t shrink under the lights,” Alldredge said on his starting debut. “I took advantage of my opportunity and I played well enough that I gave everybody the mindset, ‘We need to see what this kid has and play him a little more.’”

After Alldredge’s first season at the FBS level, he made a goal for himself to focus on block destruction as a defining part of his game. With a sizable gap between the talent and physique of offensive linemen at the junior college and FBS levels, strength and knowledge adjustments were required for the linebacker. Racking up 21.5 tackles for loss, it’s safe to say Alldredge’s adjustment over the course of the 2019 season was a resounding success.

“It starts with the weight room,” Alldredge said. “Another really big thing that helps is being able to play fast... Knowing the playbook and being able to diagnose what the offense is doing, and just getting there before I have the opportunity to get blocked is what translates a lot into TFLs.”

What area of development is next in Alldredge’s game? After forming habitats in opposing backfields as a junior, one of his focuses for his senior campaign involves improving as a coverage linebacker to diversify his arsenal of skills. Alldredge still remains in search of his first interception since his FBS starting debut.

“I already planned to play a season this year that would make last year look bad,” Alldredge said. “My two main goals are to gain weight and show that I can handle the big boys better, and I gotta get back to my true nature as a DB and make some plays in the passing game.”

With room to evolve as a football player, Alldredge can continue gaining national traction. He’s already traversed an unexpected path to land on watchlists for the Butkus, Bednarik, and Nagurski awards. But with one season of eligibility left, the success doesn’t stop after appearing on preseason award watchlists. The same level of motivation from the ‘Maybe you’re not as good as you think you are’ conversation is still evident in the linebacker to this day.

“I still feel like I have a lot to prove,” Alldredge said. “There’s a lot of people that don’t truly see and recognize the level that I’m at. And that’s on me to go out and show them, and that’s what I plan to do this season.”