Rice picked up committment #18 for its 2008 Signing Class when Ronnie Lillard pledged to the Owls yesterday. Lillard is a 6-3 215 pound linebacker who originally hails from Ft. Myers, FL....

Proving they are among the hardest working coaches on the recruiting trail, the Rice football program gained a verbal committment yesterday from Ronnie Lillard of Ft. Myers (FL) Lehigh Sr. High School. He had originally planned to play at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, where he played at the Air Force Academy Prep School last fall. After the season he decided to get a new start elsewhere. I asked why he was looking for a change from is original plans to attend Air Force and he had this to say, "nothing against the Academy, but the military life just isn't for me." Lillard told me Rice had been recruiting him since word of his leaving Colorado Springs had surfaced in early January.

Ultimately, Lillard came in on a mid-week visit Wednesday and liked what he saw. He committed to Coach Bailiff yesterday while on campus. "I really liked the campus and the players were real cool." He was hosted by Bencil Smith and Jarett Dillard. He was recruited by Coaches Rick Lafavers and D.J. Eliot.

Lillard turned down recent visit offers to Utah and Bowling Green before making his decision to join the Rice program. He was also offered a scholarship recently from Western Kentucky. Lillard's decision to leave Air Force a little over a month ago sent many schools scrambling after his services. The Owls didn't sign a linebacker in this class so Lillard fills a need.

His numbers from last year at the Air Force Academy Prep School were quite respectable, where he notched 62 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, 4 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and a blocked field goal. Since he played at a prep school, he will still have 5 years to play 4 and is immediately eligible. He plans to report to Rice in June.

Lillard was an outstanding prospect coming out of high school garnering interest from Vanderbilt, Miami, Michigan, Florida International, Navy, and Air Force. He's almost freakishly quick for a player of his size - clocking a personal best shuttle of 4.01 seconds. And, he's also very explosive, with a vertical of 34" and a 4.63 forty time. Lillard recorded 127 tackles his senior year at Ft. Myers Lehigh. He also added 19 TFL and 2 sacks.

I spoke with Ronnie about his committment this morning and among other things he was also impressed with the new field at Rice Stadium too, "I liked the new turf a lot - it was the best I've ever been on." Ronnie will be the lone Florida player on the roster for the Owls. A trend he hopes to change. "I joked with the coaches telling them Rice is going to start winning more games now that they have Florida players."

After watching film on him this morning I like Ronnie's potential a lot. He needs a little size but will gain that in Rice's outstanding Strength and Conditioning program headed by Yancy McNight. His is the type of talent Rice needs to become tha championship program of David Bailiff's vision. His frame and athletic abilities suggest he could be a future 6-3 235 linebacker - a perfect compliment to our fast, yet prototypically speaking, lighter corps of linebackers. He's a real find.

Owl fans if you aren't impressed with the talent Rice is bringing in, and Lillard is a prime example of it, you need to pay closer attention. This staff is assembling a heck of a team here.

Welcome to Rice Ronnie!

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