Cougars Lillo excels as student of the game

Senior Lawson Lillo (ball carrier) is a marathon man for the Cougars, playing almost every snap of every game. (Photo by Darrell James)

By Malcolm Butler

Cedar Creek defensive coordinator Mark Ware has been coaching football on the high school level for more than four decades.

Ware has seen his share of stud defenders from his time at some historic programs, including Haynesville, Ruston, and West Monroe.

Names like Doug Evans (Haynesville), Robert Peace (Ruston), Jeremy Hamilton (Ruston), Will Blackwell (West Monroe), Luther Davis (West Monroe) and more.

So when Ware speaks in superlatives about Creek senior Lawson Lillo, he does so from a large sample size.

And Ware spoke in superlatives when talking about the Creek star.

“He is so intelligent,” said Ware. “He is probably the most intelligent linebacker I have ever coached and that is saying a whole lot because I have had some high school All-Americans who were terrific football players through the years.

“But Lawson really studies the game. He understands the game. He is a very, very intelligent football player.”

Lillo is intelligent. Period.

The two-way Cougar star said he prefers the defensive side of the football.

“I’ve played it longer,” said Lillo, who has been at Cedar Creek since the third grade. “I just understand the game a little better on the defensive side. I can watch film and know where the football is going to go.

“And I don’t stop until the play is over. I think that is a big part of (my success). Just hustling until the play is over.”

The WILL linebacker for the Cougars scored a 33 on his ACT. That ranks in the top two percent of all ACT test takers in the country. So it’s no wonder Lillo seems to know where to be on the field every given play.

And it shows statistically.

Through three games, Lillo unofficially ranks No. 1 in the state in tackles per game based off His 55 total tackles, or 18.3 per game, edges Union’s Ty’Quereis Wilson based on the website.

“He has great instincts,” said Creek head coach William Parkerson. “He has a high motor. If you put those two things together you have a great football player.

“He is a great kid. He has great grades. He is ‘Yes sir. No Sir.’ He will do whatever you ask him to do. Just an all-around great kid.”

Lillo, who is a three-way machine for the Cougars — offense, defense and special teams — , opened the season with a 25-tackle performance in a 22-18 loss to Glenbrook. He has since registered a 19-tackle effort against Vidalia and an 11-stop game against Winnfield.

“He understands what he is doing,” said Ware. “He can play very, very fast. His thought process is very advanced. He puts himself in position to find the football. He takes great angles. He understands how to escape blocks.”

He also totaled seven tackles for loss, two sacks and a blocked punt so far — football’s version of a partridge in a pear tree. However, when Lillo comes calling, it doesn’t feel like Christmas for opposing teams.

At 5-foot-7, 162-pounds, Lillo isn’t an intimidating figure. However, he packs quite the punch.

However, Lillo doesn’t just possess brains. He also boasts brawn.

“He is strong,” said Ware. “A lot of people may misjudge him because of his size. Pound for pound, Lawson may be the strongest kid I ever coached.  If he were 6-foot-2, 210-pounds he would be a national recruit. I can assure you.”

Opposing ball carriers are glad he isn’t any bigger.

In late August, Lillo earned a chance to travel overseas and represent his school and his country in the IPF Sub-Junior World Championships in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. And represent he did.

He earned the bronze medal in the 74 kg sub-junior weight class with a total of 1,378.125 pounds (625 kg), barely being edged out by lifters from Japan and the Ukraine.

Lillo’s personal bests in the weight room include 340 pounds on the bench press, 450 pounds on the squats and 530 pounds on the trap bar deadlift.

It’s that strength (and stamina) that allows Lillo to play almost every single snap for the Cougars on a weekly basis.

“Rarely,” said Parkerson when asked if Lillo comes off the field. “He is out there most of the night. He has a motor that doesn’t stop. I would take one-hundred Lawson Lillos.”

Football is life right now for Lillo.

However, when his high school playing days are over, he said he has his eyes set on the future.

“Right now it’s between a couple of schools,” said Lillo. “I want to go into pre-med. I want to be a surgeon.”

Why not. After all, these days he is slicing up opposing teams.