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Rice Gains a New Fan


Ray Rice's NFL career may only be a few weeks old, but he's already made a major impact on one Baltimore-area high school student.

Because Rice, all 5-foot-8, 200 pounds of him, was drafted 55th overall by the Ravens, former Hereford High School standout Lonnie Liggins learned that heart can trump a lack of prototype size along the way to gridiron success.

After being called too small to be a solid runner for many Division I schools, the 5-foot-9, 175-pound Liggins finally decided to take his skills to Army.

Liggins was at Ravens headquarters late last week to speak with Rice, who jumped at the chance to mentor the college prospect about following his dreams.

It all started when Liggins' stepfather, Ray Charles, called the Ravens' public relations department on a whim looking for a chance to nab a meeting between the two players as a graduation surprise.

Upon hearing the request, Rice asked if Liggins could come directly to the facility. Following practice, the duo sidled up to a corner table in the cafeteria for nearly an hour.

"First of all, the fact that he's going to Army says a lot about who he is," explained Rice, who is known for tutoring special education children in his hometown of New Rochelle, N.Y. "I played against Navy, and those men are stand-up characters.

"With the service academies, they may not be the biggest or the fastest, but they have a lot of heart. You have to have some serious guts to go there and do all that training."

Liggins also had to have a thick skin throughout his recruiting process. Where Charles saw a teenager with the ability to play running back at the next level, many coaches thought he should be on the other side of the football.

"Indiana, West Virginia, Buffalo… They all recruited me, but that was to play corner," said Liggins. "Basically, everybody thought that my size would be a detractor. I told myself that I wasn't going to play defense because running the ball is my passion."

It wasn't like Liggins struggled on the field. At Hereford, he was a terror in the Bulls' wing T offense. Liggins led a team that went 13-1 on its way to the Maryland Class 3A state championship game by rushing for 1,321 yards and posting 26 total touchdowns as a senior. On defense, he also snared three interceptions and one score.

Liggins was the Baltimore* Sun's* All-Baltimore County Offensive Player of the Year, while earning first-team All-Metro honors.

Rice heard similar talk coming out of New Rochelle High School. An All-State first-team choice, he was still deflecting suggestions of a defensive move by the time he signed with Rutgers. Rice said that he was recruited for defense by Arizona State and Penn State, among other football powerhouses.

"I turned them down because I wanted to run the ball," Rice said. "I wouldn't settle, and he shouldn't either. It takes heart and perseverance when people say you can't do something."

With meetings looming on a busy practice day, Rice had to bid his guest farewell, perhaps too early for both parties.

But despite the brevity of their meeting, it was clear that Rice also made a fan for life.

"I've always been a Ray Rice fan," Liggins said. "He may be smaller, but he runs big. I think I can do a little bit of anything. I'll probably not be running a 4.3 or anything, but Ray told me just to be myself on the field."

If that happens, Rice thinks the young Black Night could go far.

"He's going to make a name for himself," said the young Raven. "Who's to say that you can't go pro out of Army? He's been running his entire life.

"He needs to go out there and write his own legacy. He can write his own book as he goes."

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