Not everyone is born or bred to be a football player—it takes a unique set of physical and mental skills. Even fewer are born to be leaders.
Brian Lilly might not have the fastest 40-yard time. He may not have the typical football player stature, standing six feet tall and weighing 230 pounds. However, there is something about the senior linebacker that stands tall among his coaches and teammates.
“His sacrifice, commitment and dedication are second to none,” Coach Dennis Franchione said.
“He’s a good leader. Nobody ever questions Brian’s care and accountability to his team or the work ethic he puts in. He is one of the best leaders on this team.”
Lilly was an all-state second team selection during his senior year at Denison High School, which sits just south of the Oklahoma state border. He made 90 tackles and 12 sacks, forcing three fumbles and recovering three more while running back two of those for touchdowns.
The multi-sport star also played baseball and track in high school. However, even with all of this success, Lilly was humbled when he received his football scholarship to play for the Bobcats. He was even fonder of the opportunity to earn a degree.
“I was blessed to get a scholarship to play football at Texas State,” Lilly said. “I’ve always taken that with the utmost respect and have never taken it for granted. It was a great opportunity for me because I wouldn’t have been able to go to college.”
It didn’t take long for Lilly to make his mark on the Bobcat football team. After redshirting his true freshman season, he played in eight games his redshirt freshman campaign, totaling 15 tackles and an interception.
“He’s eager every day to learn more,” linebackers coach Brad Franchione said. “He’s very intelligent and a lot of times he keeps me in check. He’s smart, he’s attentive and he knows what to look for and how to react to it.”
Lilly earned the starting spot at middle linebacker in his sophomore season, a position where intelligence, toughness and leadership are certainly needed. For the next two seasons and through his junior year, Lilly was a key cog in the Bobcats’ defense.
“Brian is about as coachable (as) a player can be,” Dennis Franchione said. “He may not be the most talented guy, but he’s hardworking, and he’s a student of the game. He cares about his team and works his tail off to be the starter. He just won’t let anybody beat him out.”
He made 115 tackles during his sophomore and junior seasons. His main mission was leading a defense while numerous changes were made on and off the field, as the Dennis Franchione era started to evolve and a slew of new coaches were ushered in.
“I’ve always played up to my role,” Lilly said. “It has changed over the years but has become that of a leader this year and last year, too. I always try to be a positive leader, just try to keep people going.”
Lilly does not only keep his coaches in check at times, but keeps his fellow teammates in line as well.
“We’ve talked about leadership with Brian,” Brad Franchione said. “He’s embraced it. He really cares about it. He’s not afraid to say things to his teammates. The (linebacker) partnered up with Lilly will never be wrong because (Lilly) won’t let him be wrong.”
The feeling is much different for Lilly in his senior year. Not only is he the most experienced linebacker on the roster, but he is currently in his last season of playing collegiate football. Lilly said this is something he is not taking for granted and is hoping to make the most of it.
“I’ve matured a lot,” Lilly said. “I’ve grown in the classroom. I’ve always taken school seriously. But I’ve always wanted to be on the dean’s list, and this past semester I made it. I got to brag on myself for once. It’s never been a 3.75. I was super-excited.”
The English major hopes to begin student teaching in the spring, with a ‘coach’ added to the title next to his name. Lilly said he would want nothing more than to coach the sport he loves while teaching the subject he loves.
Football is a sport where physical attributes win out a majority of the time, with great emphasis put on how fast somebody is in the NFL Combine every year. Given this, Lilly is a nice surprise—one with heart and determination, who never stops being a leader.