By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports
All Zyon Lilly wants is a chance.
“You grind — blood, sweat and tears,” Lilly said. “You put it all on the line. When you do that, and you don’t get rewarded, it’s really just a hurt feeling.”
The Captain Shreve senior doesn’t think he can play college football. He knows he can. But Wednesday, much to his disappointment, Lilly was a supporter — instead of a signee — at the school’s National Signing Day Ceremony. Braylon Finney (Grambling) and Ckelby Givens (Southern) will play football at the next level.
“I’m happy for my teammates, because we’re brothers at the end of the day,” Lilly said. “I’m really being humble, because I know I can play. I know somebody will give me a chance.”
Lilly, a defensive lineman, was named second team All-District 1-5A both his junior and senior seasons. Last fall, Lilly was seventh on his team in tackles, tied for fourth in tackles for loss, and was third in sacks. All that, on a squad that shared the district title, and advanced to the second round of the state playoffs.
“I know I can play, because we play at the highest level — in Class 5A,” Lilly said. “We play in the toughest league. I go up against guys bigger than me most of the time. Really, people just need to start recruiting football players.”
It’s not that Lilly hasn’t drawn interest.
“We’ve had college coaches come through here — five for sure — at the top level of Division II, that see his film, love him, and say ‘Coach, we need this guy,’ ” said Shreve coach Bryant Sepulvado.
“They come see him in person, and they go from ‘We’re here today to offer him,’ to ‘We’re going to keep evaluating him.’ ”
Is it Lilly’s personality that turns off coaches?
Is it his attitude?
Is it his size?
“He’s probably 5-8, or the bottom-end of 5-9,” Sepulvado said.
For a defensive lineman, that’s not the measurements college coaches seek.
“Honestly, right now, what can anybody do about his height?” Sepulvado asked. “Nothing. It is what it is. But if that’s all you’re doing to define him, you’re shortchanging him. Look at his production. Look how he moves his feet. Look at how he splits double-teams. Look at the game of football.”
For Lilly, being undersized — and underestimated — is nothing new.
“It just makes me even hungrier,” Lilly said. “I just keep working non-stop. As soon as the season was over, I had to get back to work. I’m smaller. I’m going to have to work harder than anybody else to get a shot. Through all my life, I’ve had to work harder to earn a spot.”
A tape measure is good for determining the size of a player. It’s not so good for determining the size of a player’s heart. Lilly is determined to make a lot of college coaches look bad — and one college coach look good.
“There’s a lot of anger just bottled up,” the soft-spoken Lilly said. “I’m ready to release it. I can’t fumble the chance if — when — I do get it.”
Photo of Zyon Lilley by TONY TAGLAVORE