Carroll County alum Lucas Holder is trading in redneck for a Leatherneck.
Holder, the 2016 Big South Scholar-Athlete of the Year and a second-team all-Big South selection as an offensive lineman this past season at Liberty, announced his intentions Friday to transfer to Western Illinois University.
Having just completed his junior season for Liberty University, Holder had already completed his undergraduate degree in government in two-and-a-half years, finishing with a 3.69 GPA and a master’s degree in public policy: public administration with a 3.90 GPA. He plans on pursuing a second master’s degree in business administration, a big motivating factor in his decision to transfer. Still, after spending all of his life in Virginia, the move to Illinois will be something new for Holder as he joins the Division I Leathernecks’ football team in mid-January.
“I’ve been in Virginia 22 years, whether it is Southwest or Central Virginia, and I thought it was time for me to assimilate to a new culture and spread my wings a little bit and experience the Midwest for a little while,” Holder said. “It will make me appreciate their culture and gain more appreciation for where I am from.”
Moving from Liberty to Western Illinois, Holder will continue to play football at the Division I level. While he also had offers from some Power 5 schools, he felt the Macomb, Illinois-institution was the best place for him to continue his educational and athletic goals.
“First off, I would like to thank God for blessing me throughout my life and bestowing another opportunity to play Division 1 football. Secondly, I would like to thank the countless institutions that recruited me throughout this process,” Holder said in his announcement Friday. “I am ending my recruitment and have decided that I will pursue a Masters in Business Administration degree and play football at Western Illinois University. Head Coach Charlie Fisher, Offensive Line Coach Ty Howle, Wide Receivers Coach David Rocco, Quarterbacks Coach Jared Elliot, and Director of Football Operations DeMarcko Butler are men of high character and the type of people who truly value full-person development on and off the field of competition. The family and community-oriented atmosphere of the citizens of Macomb, Illinois, the opportunity to play in the Missouri Valley Conference, and the chance to earn a top-flight degree was too momentous of an opportunity to turn down.”
A versatile offensive lineman at 6-5, 305 pounds, Holder played right guard, left guard and center just this season for Liberty. During his career with the Flames, he manned every position on the offensive line at some point except for left tackle. With such size and diversity, Holder stands a real chance at earning an opportunity to make the NFL after the 2017 season. But that’s not something he is even thinking about right now, saying the motivation to transfer to WIU was purely based on educational considerations.
“I really wanted to diversify my degrees and give myself a good chance to go on to a better law school and have a better professional career. While researching places, Western Illinois was one of the first to call me. They called me 30 minutes after my announcement and pursued me harder than anyone else,” Holder said. “I could have probably waited another week or so to hear from other FBS schools, but I didn’t want to go that route and wanted to finish the holidays knowing where I was going. They are a top 15 percent business school nationwide, so they are really high end on the academic side of things and that really mattered to me.”
From a football perspective, Western Illinois plays in the Missouri Valley Conference, widely considered to be the strongest football conference in all of the FCS. One of its members, North Dakota State, won five straight national championships before falling to James Madison this year in the national semifinals. And Western Illinois is no slouch on the gridiron, either, going 6-5 in 2016 including a victory over FBS-opponent Northern Illinois.
“They play in the best conference in FCS and Western Illinois has produced the most NFL players of any FCS school ever, so that was a pretty cool deal, too,” Holder said. “The most notable would be Rodney Harrison, who played for the Patriots and won three Super Bowls, but they have countless others in the NFL as well.”
Other considerations for Holder included the fact that the Leathernecks have a wonderful tradition, making the FCS playoffs 10 times since 1988. He also joins a team poised for great success in 2017 as Western Illinois returns 19 starters, including four redshirt seniors on the offensive line. Holder will make it five redshirt seniors up front.
“It’s the biggest offensive line I will ever play on. My offensive line coach there played at Penn State and graduated in 2011 or 2012 and said it will be a bigger offensive line than he had at Penn State,” Holder said. “I will be the second smallest player on the line and I am 6-5, 305. There were a lot of bigger schools that were going to offer me a scholarship, but they didn’t have the degree program I wanted, some from the Power 5 and some from outside the Power 5. But I just wanted to choose the school that would be the most competitive and paired with the best education I could get, and that is what led me to Western Illinois.”
There, he will definitely earn the name Leatherneck as well. He said it was 5 degrees Fahrenheit when he made his official visit.
“They are tough up there. It makes 28 degrees and snowing here seem like a summer breeze. There’s nothing flashy about it. They work hard and they have tradition, and that is what I really love about it,” he said.
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN