Before the start of the 2021 season, you had to wonder who would step up for this Missouri defense and replace all-everything Nick Bolton.

Well, we may have gotten an answer Saturday with the emergence of Blaze Alldredge at linebacker. Alldredge and the Mizzou defense had a field day against Central Michigan, sacking their quarterback 9 times.

Alldredge had 3.5 of those sacks. But if you ask people around the program about Alldredge, they knew this might be his year.

Alldredge has come a long way from his days in Houston to now Columbia. His path from barely noticed high school player in suburban Orlando — he doesn’t even have a prep recruiting profile on — to potentially the new defensive star for the Tigers is something that is like a dream.

Alldredge’s path started at junior college in Los Angeles. He spent 1 season there and played well enough to attract Rice’s attention. He developed at Rice, where he twice was named first-team all-C-USA. Last year for the Owls, he had 47 tackles, and he was graded as the Owl’s top pass rusher, winning the George Martin MVP Award two times in a row for the team’s best player.

He was also on the Butkus Award watch list as one of the top linebackers in the country.

But clearly, Alldredge knew that he would have a hard time being noticed at Rice, so after he graduated, he took his talent and transferred to Missouri, where he had the possibility of being noticed and boy is he.

Good thing, too. Bolton was Mizzou’s Mr. Everything on defense. He led the Tigers in tackles each of the past 2 years. He was a 2-time All-SEC pick and an All-American in 2020.

Nobody expected any on Tiger to replace his production.

But Alldredge is grateful to the Missouri coaching staff for allowing him to be himself and not putting pressure on him to be the next Missouri great.

Alldredge talked about this to the Columbia Tribune.

“It’s definitely big shoes to come in and try and fill,” Alldredge said Thursday of Bolton’s influence. “But the truth is, that was a big factor in my decision. I wanted to come to a place that had experience with great linebackers and sending guys to the league. And the great thing about it has just been that nobody wants me to be Nick Bolton.”

“Obviously he’s a great linebacker. Everybody understands that I’m my own player. I have my own identity, my own style. And the truth of the matter, like I’ve told a lot of guys, is that we have a great defense. I don’t need to come in and be Superman and try and save the day or anything. I just need to come in and be myself, which time has shown is a pretty good college football player, and just make sure that I get lined up and help other guys get lined up and let everybody play ball.”

His impact has been felt immediately and will be needed if the Tigers intend on having a good year.

Alldredge has made such an impact on the team even before the start of the season, Mizzou head coach Eli Drinkwitz, honored him by allowing him to wear the No. 25, which is in honor of the late Aaron O’Neal, who died in 2005 after a workout.

Drinkwitz felt Alldredge deserved the recognition.

“It just went to who’s a guy that can carry on the legacy and tradition of Aaron O’Neal, and who’s a guy he would be proud of wearing that number,” Drinkwitz said according to SB Nation. “And Blaze has come in and done a really nice job within the defense, within the team, representing the right way, having the right character and makeup. Plays his butt off every single play, and it’s somebody that we’ll all be proud of representing number 25.”

His story and inspired play is the stuff legends are made of. He has come a long way from Celebration High School in Florida to an SEC school looking to continue its march forward from going pretenders to contenders in the SEC East. He and the Tigers still have a lot to prove.

But if Saturday was any indication, Alldredge is going to be a terror in the SEC and he will join a long list of Missouri linebackers who could make life miserable for opponents in the SEC.