The Rice University football team added 18 players to its program, with athletes from around Texas signing their National Letters of Intent on Feb. 3.

As the Owls look to compete for a Conference USA championship and return to a bowl game, they primarily acquired three traits in their incoming class: size on the interior offensive line, playmakers at wide receiver and speed on defense. Based on the team’s graduating class and performance last season, these were the team needs earmarked by Head Coach David Bailiff and his staff. These needs were reflected in the types of student-athletes added to the team.

Of the 18 recruits, eight are offensive players and 10 are defensive players, and all are from Texas. Offensively, the team added three wide receivers, three offensive linemen, a tight end and a cornerback. While the staff is excited about all the recruits, co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Billy Lynch said Aaron Cephus, a 6-foot-5, 188-pound receiver from the Houston area, has the potential to make an immediate impact on the team.

“Aaron Cephus is a tremendous athlete that not only has the length and the athleticism but has a real knack for timing his jumps,” Lynch said. “The ability to have that impeccable timing gives us an opportunity to have a big play athlete that can really stretch the field.”

Defensively, the team was able to add talent on all three levels. The Owls signed four defensive linemen, two linebackers, and four defensive backs. As with Lynch on the offense, assistant head coach/linebackers coach Darrell Patterson talked glowingly about all of his recruits. According to Patterson, however, Dylan Silcox, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound defensive back from Winnie, Texas, particularly impresses him.

“Dylan Silcox is a cornerstone of our class, he was our first commit,” Patterson said. “He got one of the greatest compliments you could ever get when [former Rice tight end and current San Francisco 49er] Vance McDonald said, ‘Coach, he’s more athletic than I was.’”

Rice’s academic rigor may deter some top-tier athletes. With their successes in recent seasons, however, Bailiff and his staff have proven otherwise with their recruiting abilities. In fact, Bailiff actually said that the high academic standards make it easier to recruit athletes.

“You’d think the academics would make this an obstacle, but that makes this a very easy university to recruit to,” Bailiff said. “When we walk into a home, we’re offering a scholarship that could change their lives. It’s one where we do the traveling camps, we don’t have great numbers, but we have young men that believe they’re admissible to Rice.”

Bailiff said he is extremely excited about the potential of his incoming class, both on the field and off.

“They are great fits academically, they are great fits athletically,” Bailiff said. “We are looking for young men that will not only help us win a conference championship in football, but also help us graduate 100 percent. They’re going to come in and make a big difference at this university.”

The new recruits will officially join Rice football over the summer to prepare for the upcoming season, or, if they are redshirted, to become stronger and prepare for their collegiate careers.