Meet Blaze Alldredge, AKA Mizzou’s new stud linebacker who’s much more than a unique name and hairstyle

It seems impossible that Blaze Alldredge could go unaccounted for.

Let’s start with the unique name of the Mizzou linebacker  — “Blaze Alldredge.” It’s more like a created player in NCAA Football ’14 than a real-life human being. He got the name, Blaze, after parents Zen and Diane decided to change a letter from his grandmother’s maiden name “Braze.” They liked how it sounded, and as Blaze got older, so did he.

“I definitely have to thank them, because I feel like a big part of my success has been just rising to the pressure that the name brings,” Alldredge told SDS. “It’s not quite as exciting of an origin story. I think I should make up a better one.”

Alldredge’s football origin story is plenty interesting. He’s just your standard undersized, unranked recruit who went from a high school senior without any Division I offers to a game-changing middle linebacker who recorded 6 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in his first career SEC game on Saturday in the Tigers’ 34-24 win over Central Michigan. His favorite of his several tattoos is on his side, and it reads “underdog” in Viking rune. That’s fitting, not just because of Alldredge’s rise but because he looks (and plays) like a modern-day Viking.

That brings us to the hair. We’ve got to talk about the hair.

He went from being the military-style buzz-cut kid until his senior year of high school, when he finally got the green light from his parents to come up with his own style, “and I just went crazy with it,” he said.

In fall camp at Mizzou, it was long and flowing in the back and sticking out of his helmet with a beard. Now, the beard is gone, his hair is completely shaved on the sides with braids on top, and he has a ponytail of sorts sticking out of the back. His new coach couldn’t help but bring it up when he recapped Saturday’s breakout performance.

“You seen his hair?” Mizzou coach Eli Drinkwitz said. “If you’re going to wear hair like that, you better be a player.”

A player, Alldredge is. The grad transfer from Rice just made his SEC debut, and already he recorded more sacks in a game than any Mizzou player in the last 15 years.

Add it all up, and it’s that much more puzzling that he could ever burst through the line of scrimmage untouched with a clean shot on a quarterback. But that’s exactly what happened on Saturday.

At Mizzou, they call that “The Tiger Hook.” As in, that’s when a defensive player runs through the line of scrimmage right off an offensive lineman’s hip and drives into the ballcarrier at full speed. It’s something Alldredge already appears plenty familiar with in Steve Wilks’ defense.

“You can tell (Alldredge) has natural instincts, and he certainly fits into their scheme,” said Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, whose Wildcats take on the Tigers on Saturday in Lexington. “They’re very aggressive.”

If you didn’t know any better, you’d assume that Alldredge was entering Year 4 or 5 playing in the same system in Columbia. In reality, Alldredge took the long way to get to Mizzou. First, a year at Pierce College in Los Angeles. Then, 3 years at Rice playing for Mike Bloomgren, whom Alldredge said he’ll be eternally grateful for because “he took a chance on a JUCO kid with no Division 1 offers out of high school.”

Alldredge rewarded Bloomgren’s roll of the dice by becoming a tackling machine (he had 21.5 tackles for loss in his last full season in 2019). That earned the team MVP award twice. It also gave Alldredge a Power 5 market when he decided to spend his last year of eligibility elsewhere. Within 5 days of entering the transfer portal, Alldredge said he got serious interest from 4 of the Power 5 conferences.

“I was more desired than I thought I would be, to be honest,” Alldredge said. “It was a loaded portal, and I was a little nervous about entering it, but I was a popular guy for a couple days there.”

Meanwhile, Mizzou was in need of a replacement for the indispensable Nick Bolton. The 2-time first-team All-SEC linebacker left Columbia after his junior season and was drafted in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft by the  Chiefs. In mid-January, Drinkwitz said the plan was simple: Get Alldredge on campus as soon as possible and sell him on the idea of filling a massive vacancy in the middle of Mizzou’s defense.

Between that and working with Wilks, who had coached in the NFL for the last 15 years and worked with stud middle linebackers like Luke Kuechly, Alldredge said that everything about Mizzou “was like dominoes falling over.”

“We sold him on replacing Nick Bolton. I don’t know if we sold him that he had to be Nick Bolton,” Drinkwitz said. “But there was an opportunity for him to have the ability to play. And obviously, we were changing defenses, so it wasn’t gonna look the exact same that Nick did. We didn’t need him to come in and become the next Nick Bolton. We needed him to come in and be Blaze Alldredge, and play for us. I think he’s done a nice job of that so far.”

Alldredge is indeed his own person. And nobody needs to tell him to be himself. He likes anime, tattoos, blitzing and LeBron James.

(Yes, he knows that James is a co-investor in the now-national chain Blaze Pizza, which Alldredge has been to and is a fan of. If it wanted an NIL partnership with him, well, let’s just say there would be mutual interest.)

The middle child of a family with 5 boys, Alldredge is no stranger to settling into new surroundings.

Just before Blaze was about to start high school, the Alldredge family moved from Central Florida to California to be with Blaze’s oldest brother, Zen Jr., after his lifetime battle with Coffin-Lowry syndrome started to take a turn for the worse. At the time, Zen Jr. lived in a special needs facility in the Los Angeles area. The rare genetic disorder causes severe mental issues. It’s associated with skeletal abnormalities and respiratory problems. Worst of all, there’s no cure.

In April of Blaze’s sophomore year of high school, Zen Jr. died from complications. Blaze leaned on the support of his family, along with his best friend, Jenbenton “J.B” Jean-Baptiste, who also moved out to California with the Alldredges.

After Zen Jr.’s passing, the Alldredge family made the decision to make the move back to Central Florida halfway through Blaze’s high school career. At Celebration High School in Kissimmee, Fla., Blaze was a revelation. He immediately injected life into a program that not only went 3-7 a season prior to his arrival but was also a year removed from snapping a 30-game losing streak. As a junior, Alldredge had 128 tackles and 17 TFLs for a team that went 7-4 (go figure that he also had 6 TFLs in his Celebration debut). As a senior, he was named to the Orlando Sentinel’s Central Florida Super 60.

In addition to being a 2-way player on the gridiron, Alldredge also played basketball. As a result, his weight fluctuated. Depending on when you looked, you could see Alldredge listed anywhere from 180 to 220 pounds. He left high school at 185 pounds.

“When I look back on that,” Alldredge said, “it makes some sense why SEC schools weren’t recruiting me at the time.”

At Mizzou, though, Alldredge’s problem isn’t keeping weight on; it’s getting credit for keeping weight on.

Look in Mizzou’s media guide — as of Sept. 9 — and you’ll see him listed at 220 pounds. So what’s the issue?

“I gotta let ya in on a secret here. The roster’s wrong. I’m a solid 230,” Alldredge said. “But I’ve been trying to work with some people to get it changed. I don’t know if they’re doing it to try to get the opponent to underestimate me. … I’d like to think my biceps look about 230 on the TV screen.”

Every time the 230-pound linebacker steps on the field in a Mizzou uniform in 2021, he’ll wear No. 25 to honor the late Mizzou linebacker Aaron O’Neal. That No. 25 is given to the Mizzou linebacker who can best carry on the legacy of O’Neal, who collapsed and died during a voluntary summer workout in 2005. It was bestowed to Alldredge during fall camp a few months removed from his arrival in Columbia. He became the first transfer to wear No. 25 in honor of O’Neal.

Between embodying those leadership traits and playing up to the standard set by Bolton, Alldredge was already an atypical Group of 5 transfer. He embraced that, and he has no problem taking on the target that comes with a name and hairstyle that invites attention. So far, so good.

On Saturday, Alldredge will play in his first conference game at Mizzou. It’s unrealistic to assume he’ll continue on such a torrid statistical pace, especially after hearing Stoops speak so highly of him. One would think the Kentucky coach had the same realization that others have had.

You’d better account for Blaze.

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