Spotlight on the Outland Trophy
By Steve Richardson
FWAA Executive Director
Rice’s Outland Trophy candidate Christian Covington will debut with his No. 1 jersey against Notre Dame on Saturday in South Bend before a national television audience on NBC. And the defending Conference USA champion Owls will try and break into the win column for the first time in their fifth try against the Fighting Irish.
“We are optimistic,” said Covington, who expects to have nine friends and family in the crowd at Notre Dame Stadium. “We are very anxious to get the football season started. This whole team is looking forward to Friday morning and flying out. It is going to be an awesome game, an awesome experience. I can’t wait to step on that field.”
Covington, a 6-foot-3, 305-pound junior defensive tackle, has turned in his No. 56 jersey as part of Rice’s Honors Jersey program, in exchange for numero uno. He will be honoring N.D. Kalu, an end who wore No. 1 for Rice from 1993-96, earned all-conference honors and was the school’s single-season and career holder for sacks at the completion of his career.
Kalu later played 11 seasons in the National Football League (for three different teams), finishing with the Houston Texans in 2008.
“It means a lot to honor someone of Rice’s past, to represent a player who had an amazing career at Rice, had a terrific NFL career,” Covington said. “It means so much because he means so much to this Rice Owls’ football program and Houston area, and to do it for a guy who was my mentor my freshman year for our Leadership Program available to the student-athletes here.”
A native of Vancouver, British Columbia, Covington knows all about sacks and tackles for losses. During his first two seasons with the Owls he registered nine sacks for 73 yards in losses and 19.5 tackles for 100 yards in losses overall. In 2013, he became the Owl’s first defensive tackle to earn All-Conference honors as a sophomore since the return of two-platoon football in 1965.
“Christian is one of the finest big athletes I have ever coached,” Rice Coach David Bailiff said. “He has linebacker feet. His father is in the Hall of Fame in Canada as the sack leader. So he has grown up in this football game. … His skill level there (in Vancouver where he played high school football) was just absolutely amazing because of the fundamentals his father had taught him. So he is a product of his environment at home.”
Covington hopes his career takes a path similar to his father’s. Grover Covington had a stellar career with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Canadian Football League from 1981-91.
“My father has been my coach since day one,” Covington said. “He has taught me everything that he, himself, had learned during his time playing football. He has been my coach. He has been my mentor. He has been my best friend. So I have him to thank for everything I am able to produce and put on that field.”
Part of the 2013 highlight reel for Covington was a sack of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, breaking through the Aggies’ talented offensive line in the season opener, a 52-31 Owls’ loss.
“He’s a great player,” Bailiff added. “He is fast. He is physical. He is explosive. He can be disruptive. We redshirted him his first year and last year, his production, he had a cast on one hand, so that was with one hand. We are really hopeful with two hands he can even play a little better.”
Covington suffered a torn ligament in his right thumb on Halloween Night in 2013 against North Texas, but was soon told he would not miss a game. He would, however, wear a heavy cast on the hand. He still managed 4.5 tackles in the remaining five games.
“It took some getting used to,” Covington said. “I didn’t have as good showing as I would have like to in my first game back to get off blocks. I had offensive linemen trying to pull it off my hand. It hindered me a little bit. But I was able to find some success later on as time went on and the doctors were able to make it (the cast) smaller, piece by piece.”
With the cast completely off, Saturday’s game is an excellent opportunity for Covington to showcase his skills and to enhance his Outland Trophy (Best Interior Lineman) and Bronko Nagurski Trophy (Best Defensive Player) chances.