Creek’s Lillo lifts way to world powerlifting championships

By T. Scott Boatright

“The wolf on the hill is not as hungry as a wolf climbing the hill.”

Fortunately for Cedar Creek’s Lawson Lillo, the same mentality works for a Cougar.

That opening Arnold Schwarzenegger quote describes the hunger Lillo, who will begin his junior year at Cedar Creek in August, felt after this year’s Class 1A Louisiana High School Athletic Association Powerlifting championships.

Lillo finished second at state in the 148-pound weight class, helping the Cougars to a third-place finish as a team.

But that wasn’t good enough for Lillo, who had to wait three months to respond during competition last weekend at the Powerlifting America Nationals in Orlando, Florida.

And Lillo responded in a big way, setting meet and  personal records in all of his lifts to not only earn first place in his weight class, but also qualifying to be a part of Team USA Sub-Junior and Junior National Teams in the IPF World Championships in Turkey in late August.

“I wanted redemption from our state meet in March,” Lillo said. “I didn’t do so well, so I wanted to go in at this meet and at least compete and prove myself.I think my mindset was different this time. I had wanted to finish first at state, and not making it kind of reset my mindset. I was focused — I knew what I wanted to accomplish.” 

Cedar Creek powerlifting coach Jacob Angevine was happy to see one of his athletes go to Nationals for a second straight year. Angevine said he’s more than thrilled to see Lillo earn an international trip.

“Emma Moore went to Nationals — in a different organization’s competition — last year,” Angevine said. “But now to see Lawson do this is almost overwhelming.”

And though Lillo is only heading into his junior year of high school, Angevine said it feels like he’s been lifting for the Cougars forever.

“He’s been lifting for (Cedar Creek) since his seventh grade year,” Angevine said of Lillo. “His seventh grade year he placed third. His eighth-grade year was knocked out by COVID. As a freshman he placed first and this past season he finished second.

“So he’s been on the podium at every state meet he’s been at. He started out in the 114-pound class, then moved up to 123. But this year he’s been competing in the 148s. He texted me from Orlando last weekend and said he’d come in lighter than he thought he would at 142. He was around 149-150 during football. But that makes what he did (in Orlando) even more impressive.”

Weightlifting has helped Lillo become a solid football player for the Cougars, too.

“It’s helped me as a football player,” Lillo said about powerlifting. “A lot of it is about confidence and applies to life in general. It helps me make friends. I really do believe it’s the most confidence-building sport you can participate in.

“Weightlifting is the reason I got to start on the football team my sophomore year. I’ve always been kind of a smaller kid, but I challenged myself to find ways to get out there on the football field, and weightlifting helped make it happen. In weightlifting, if you put in the work, you’re going to see results — good results.”

Angevine said Lillo’s mindset plays a big role in his success.

“He’s a perfectionist in everything he does,” Angevine said. “Everything he does is the right way — in the classroom, on the football field and in the weight room. Whatever he does has to be perfect. If something is off, he feels it and he’ll tell you, ‘That didn’t feel right,” or ‘I think I need to change this.’ And he’s nearly always right. He’s one of the smartest kids I’ve been around whether it’s in the classroom, on the football field or in the weight room.”

Lillo said much of that mindset comes from his father and older brother Caden, now a football player at Louisiana College.

“It’s kind of an indescribable feeling,” Lillo said of what goes through his mind as he’s about to make a lift. “You’ve got to put yourself in a mindset where it becomes more than you vs. the weight. It’s you vs. the world. You just block everything out and focus and become a dog.

“My dad and I have this thing —  if you want to be a dog and be at the top, you have to turn into a dog. It’s you vs. the world.”

That attitude isn’t hard to have while doing something he loves – and feels he almost needs — to do.

“Weighting is fun to me — it’s a stress reliever,” Lillo said. “ I like hanging out with friends and playing video games. But I really like being in the weight room. Somehow, it’s therapeutic in a way for me.”

So Lillo plans to keep relieving his stress by preparing for his trip to Turkey and the upcoming Cedar Creek football season.

“It’s surreal,” Lillo said of earning a spot on Team USA and preparing to head overseas in August. “ It’s something like you see on TV, or see about the people you look up to. But to have it happen to me? It really hasn’t really hit me yet.”