After exploding on to the Mountain West scene in 2019, Fresno State senior linebacker Justin Rice has been added to the Chuck Bednarik Award watchlist for 2020. The first team All-MWC selection looks to be in the running for the nation’s top defensive player after a breakout first season on defense. The senior, and younger brother of tight end Jared Rice, was originally recruited as a running back in 2016, and saw marginal action in that terrible 1-11 season.
When Jeff Tedford and the new staff came in, Rice transitioned to safety after two new running backs were brought in in Ronnie Rivers and Jordan Mims. Rice redshirted in 2018 while waiting behind the dynamic linebacking corps of Jeff Allison, George Helmuth, and James Bailey before launching on to the scene in 2019. He started the season with a bang, logging 10 tackles and an interception against USC on his way to a team-leading 112 tackles, good enough for 3rd in the Mountain West.
This marks the third straight season that Fresno State has had a player on the Bednarik Watch list. Mykal Walker and Juju Hughes made the list in 2019, and Jeff Allison made it to the semi-finals in 2018. The award is given out annually by the Maxwell Football Club, who also sponsor the Maxwell Trophy for the best all-around football player in the country. Hopefully we will have a season for the 5 Mountain West players on the list to display their skills for the whole college football world. Keep watching this space for more updates as they happen.