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Georgia inside linebacker Monty Rice (32) eyes his Notre Dame opponent. At the end of the first half, Georgia trailed Notre Dame by a score of 10-7 on Sept. 21, 2019, in Athens, Ga. (Photo/ Gabriella Audi https://gabbyaudi10.wixsite.com/mysite-1)

Georgia linebackers Monty Rice and Azeez Ojulari joined 49 other NCAA contenders on the 2020 Butkus Award watch list announced Monday. Chaz Chambliss, Georgia’s lone class of 2021 outside linebacker commit, made the list as well.

Named for 1960s and ‘70s Chicago Bears Hall of Famer Dick Butkus, the award is the top individual honor for high school, collegiate and professional linebackers. Last year’s winners were Upland, California high school senior Justin Flowe, Clemson senior Isaiah Simmons and Chicago Bears pro-bowler Khalil Mack.

The senior Rice looks to improve for the third consecutive year after recording a team-high and career-best 89 tackles in 2019. A key component of the No. 1 run defense in college football last year according to NCAA statistics, Rice also hit opposing quarterbacks 14 times, deflected three passes and made three tackles-for-loss.

He’ll be the main leader in the middle of the defense this fall with the loss of fifth-year senior Tae Crowder to the Giants as the final selection of the 2020 NFL draft.

Redshirt sophomore Azeez Ojulari broke out last year in his first season at outside linebacker. In 13 starts, he notched 6.5 tackles-for-loss to accompany 39 quarterback hits. Not including the 2020 Sugar Bowl, Ojulari ranked No. 19 in the SEC and No. 1 on Georgia in sacks with 4.5.

Ojulari won most-improved defensively in the team’s postseason awards and will be featured heavily this fall as the cornerstone of Georgia’s outside rush.

Still with a year left to patrol the defensive midfield for Carrollton High School, outside linebacker Chaz Chambliss plans to join the Bulldogs in fall 2021.

According to the 247Sports Composite list, Chambliss ranks No. 23 among all recruits from the state of Georgia and chose the Bulldogs over offers from Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame. The Carrollton Trojans went 12-1 in 2019, making it to the quarterfinals of the 2019 GHSA 5-A playoffs.

Depending on their dominance this season, the two current and one upcoming Bulldogs have the chance to add to Georgia’s two past Butkus Award recipients. Roquan Smith won as a senior in 2017 after making 137 tackles and 6.5 sacks, and current sophomore Nakobe Dean won as a high schooler in 2018.

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