Alldredge looking to replace Bolton by playing like himself

Blaze Alldredge still recalls one particular middle school basketball game. Always a better athlete than most of his peers, Alldredge was the best player on a bad team, and on this occasion, he scored something like 30 of his team’s 42 points. (That’s his recollection; his older brother Kanin Alldredge thinks it was more like 40 of the team’s 47.)

Alldredge doesn’t reminisce about that game because it represented one of his earliest athletic highlights. In fact, it still stands out roughly 10 years later because Kanin told him it wasn’t good enough.

Despite Blaze’s efforts, his team lost the game. And even though his brother had carried the offensive load, Kanin, nine years older, felt like Blaze hadn’t played as hard as he could, slacking off at times on the defensive end or failing to make hustle plays. So, after the rest of his teammates left, Kanin kept Blaze at the gym and made him “put in a little work after the game.”

That might seem harsh for a young teenager who bore little of the responsibility for his team’s loss. But Kanin’s message was that, if Blaze was going to achieve his lofty athletic dreams, he couldn’t measure himself against other people’s standards for success. Now, as he prepares to prove himself on the biggest stage of his athletic career — transferring from Rice to Missouri and likely replacing Nick Bolton as the Tigers’ starting weakside linebacker — Blaze points to that mindset as the key to his rise through the college football ranks and that day as the moment it took root.

“He gave me a talk, like, ‘Look, just because you’re so much better than your teammates or whatever, that doesn’t mean that you’re competing with them. You’re always competing with yourself, and you always judge yourself by your own standards,'” Blaze said. “And since then, it’s really helped me stay focused, whether I didn’t have any offers or whether I was on the Butkus watch list. Evaluating myself to what I can do.”

From his name to his look to his mindset, Blaze Alldredge has always been his own person. (Mizzou Athletics)

Generally speaking, Alldredge has never been one to get caught up in what other people think about him. Being different runs in his family.

The most obvious example are the names. In addition to Blaze and Kanin, their father, Zen Alldredge, named his other three sons Kyron, Jett and Zen Jr.

“We’ve always been our own people,” Blaze said.

Blaze sports a bushy beard and long blonde hair that, depending on the day, could be twisted into dreadlocks or flowing out of the back of his helmet. While he’s always enjoyed lifting weights, he’s far from the stereotypical meathead linebacker. He talks at times like a philosopher, preaching the importance of the “mind-body connection.” He’s practiced various forms of yoga and meditation since middle school. His current nightly routine involves sipping chamomile tea and taking a few moments to clear his mind before going to bed.

Missouri head coach Eli Drinkwitz remarked that, even as a newcomer to the team, Alldredge is “comfortable in his own skin,” not looking to change anything to fit in.

“It reminds me of me, except for the hair,” Drinkwitz said. “Just comfortable in his own skin. He is who he is, knows who he is.”


Alldredge first adapted that mentality, that other people couldn’t measure his success, to sports because he was better than the players around him. It would prove even more important a few years later when the script flipped.

Alldredge narrowed his focus to football while he attended Celebration high school near Orlando, Florida. He started at linebacker as a junior and a senior and racked up 170 tackles, including 17 for loss, across the two seasons. Despite his production, no FBS scholarship offers materialized.

Alldredge said he’s always been “super passionate about football,” so he never considered giving up the sport before playing it at the college level. Plus, he believed he had the ability to play not just for an FBS team, but in the NFL. He drew some interest from Ivy League schools and considered enrolling at Columbia, but opted instead to move across the country to Los Angeles Pierce junior college, figuring that would provide a more direct path to the caliber of college team where he envisioned himself, and thus a better chance to impress NFL scouts.

Before his lone junior college season began, Alldredge came the closest he ever came to quitting the sport. He performed poorly during the team’s first scrimmage of fall camp and feared that would prevent him from seeing the field once the season began. Doubt began to creep in that he could ever attract the attention of an FBS coach, much less play professionally.

“I thought to myself, you know, maybe I don’t have the talent to achieve my dreams,” Alldredge remembered. “Like, maybe everybody else is right but I’m wrong. But after that kind of momentary lapse, I took the weekend to be in my feelings, and then I just decided, I was like, you know what? No. I’m not going to have any regrets. I don’t want to look back and say maybe if I had tried harder or, like, not let the noise get to me, then I could have made it. And since then, I’ve just been locked in.”

Alldredge wound up securing a starting spot at Pierce and recorded 88 tackles across 10 games. Afterward, he received offers to play for Connecticut, Eastern Michigan and Rice. He opted to join the Owls. An injury cleared the way for him to start at weakside linebacker during his first season in Houston, and he never relinquished the job. In 2019, as a junior, Alldredge put together a breakout season, racking up 102 tackles and 21.5 tackles for loss, the latter tied for second-best in the country. The performance earned him first-team all-Conference USA honors and inclusion on the Butkus Award watch list, presented to the nation’s best linebacker, entering 2020.

Rice wound up playing just five games a season ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Alldredge still totaled 47 tackles. He once again earned a spot on the all-conference first team and was named the Owls’ defensive MVP for the second year in a row.

Alldredge’s ultimate goal remained playing in the NFL, but before declaring for the draft, he opted to utilize the free year of eligibility provided to all players by the NCAA to boost his stock. Missouri, looking for an experienced player to step into the void created by Bolton’s departure, was one of the first schools to contact Alldredge after he entered the transfer portal. Lured by the opportunity to play in the SEC, Alldredge jumped on the offer, committing to Missouri Jan. 18.

Alldredge assured that he won’t approach his lone season as a Tiger like a mercenary, focused more on his professional stock than the team’s success. For one, he understands that the more games the team wins, the better he will look as a prospect. But more importantly, he has plenty of experience being the most productive player on a losing team — not just in middle school basketball, but at Rice, which compiled a record of 7-23 during Alldredge’s three seasons. He wants to taste a winning season and a bowl game before leaving college.

“I think everybody realizes that teams that win in the SEC send guys to the NFL,” he said. “It’s almost as sure as taxes. So my biggest concern is just doing what I can as a leader, doing what I can in the defense and just helping us win games, because one of my biggest regrets at Rice is just that we couldn’t win more games, that we couldn’t take that step to being a bowl eligible team and things of that nature. And that’s another really big thing in my decision to come to Mizzou, is I felt like, obviously they already had a good year last year, but I felt like they were prepared to take the next step, to be serious competitors and to win games, and that’s something that I want to do.”

Assuming he wins the starting weakside linebacker job, Alldredge will have to try to replace all-American Nick Bolton. (Mizzou athletics)

The most significant hurdles Alldredge still needs to clear in order to secure a prominent role on Missouri’s defense would seem to be learning the defense and adapting to the speed of the SEC. He believes his circuitous journey to Columbia will help him do both. Alldredge noted that he’s successfully picked up two new defensive schemes in the past four years, so he’s used to transitioning to a new system. Upon arriving at Missouri, he made a cheat sheet for himself, on which he lists each call or formation with the name Rice had for it next to the name Missouri uses, so that he can quickly study and memorize the team’s verbiage.

Speaking to reporters last week, Missouri defensive coordinator Steve Wilks complimented Alldredge for how quickly he’s picked up the system. That doesn’t surprise Kanin, who said his younger brother has always possessed an innate understanding of football scheme. From a young age, Kanin remembers Blaze ignoring the “Ask Madden” feature when the two of them would play the popular football video game, instead dialing up his own formations and plays.

“Picking up the system will not be a problem for him,” Kanin assured. “He is an exceptionally intelligent kid, and he studies film — not just his own film, but other teams, other schemes. He is an absolute student of the game.”

Alldredge is also not afraid to compete for playing time. He’s been proving himself for the past four years, and he would not have made the leap to Missouri if he wasn’t confident he could shine on the SEC stage. So far, his position coach has been impressed with both Alldredge’s mindset off the field and his skillset on it.

“He’s a pro,” Missouri linebackers coach DJ Smith said. “If there wasn’t the COVID exception, he’d be on an NFL roster right now. So just the ability to have him in the room with us and to help me grow as a coach, to help the young guys grow and mature as players and athletes, being able to handle their business on and off the field, I think that gives you the element, first and foremost, of being a leader, being a pro. His movement skills are very exceptional, he moves very well, he’s a big, strong, fast guy, and I’m looking forward to seeing him run around this fall.”

There is one aspect of this transition that has been new to Alldredge: the expectations. Very few people outside of his family believed he could play his way to the SEC when he arrived at junior college, and he wasn’t expected to contribute right away upon transferring to Rice. This time around, Alldredge is expected not only to start, but to replace an all-American. Bolton racked up 198 tackles, including 16.5 for loss, over the past two seasons. He also served as the signal-caller and vocal leader of the Tiger defense. He earned all-SEC first-team honors each of the last two years before being drafted in the second round by the Kansas City Chiefs.

Alldredge has watched plenty of Bolton’s film from Missouri, and speaking to reporters last week, he called Bolton’s “big shoes to step into.” But that is where Kanin believes his brother’s ability to be his own person, to set his own bar for success, will come in handy once more.

Alldredge won’t try to be Bolton. He’ll continue to play like Blaze Alldredge, accentuating his unique strengths and living up to his own standards.

He’s spent the past four years proving that’s good enough. His brother doesn’t expect anything different from his final college season.

“Nick Bolton is an incredible player,” Kanin said. “I don’t think that he can be replaced exactly. But I think people are going to be incredibly impressed with what Blaze brings to the table. And so it’s not going to be a Nick Bolton replacement, but it will be a Nick Bolton equivalent in terms of production.

“Those shoes will be filled. If Nick Bolton was in Nikes, then maybe Blaze is in Under Armour. Something like that.”

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