institute — John H. Lilly is a football lifer. Coaching stints at the college, semi-pro and high school levels over three decades have provided insights that few others have.
As such, it made him a natural choice when the head coach of the South Cardinals, Fayetteville’s David Moneypenny, asked him to join his staff and serve as the defensive coordinator for the North-South Football Classic noon Saturday at South Charleston High School.
“He’s awesome,” Moneypenny said. “It was a no-brainer to me. As soon as I got the call and accepted the position, he came to mind immediately. This man has proven himself on the Class A, AA and AAA level and the college level. You talk about football, this guy’s probably forgotten more football than most of us will ever know. He’s organized, disciplined and structured. He brings a lot to the table, and he’s been working since December. I couldn’t ask for a better coach, friend and mentor. He’s the total package.”
The connection between the two goes years back. Before joining the staff at Fayetteville, Moneypenny served as an assistant to Lilly at Woodrow Wilson.
“We’ve known each other since college,” Lilly said. “He was my assistant at Woodrow for three years. When he asked me, I told him I’d be the best assistant coach he could have because he was always such a good assistant for us and helped us go to the playoffs three out of four years. I felt very honored to come down here and be his best assistant coach.”
For Lilly, this isn’t his first rodeo, but one that provides a unique perspective.
He first served as an assistant coach in 1994, returning to the event in 2010 as the head coach. He’s seen the event grow from just football, to a week catered to celebrating the state’s best.
“This event’s grown so much,” Lilly said. “My first year we were down here, we were down here for nine days and we had only one event. Now they have so much stuff for the kids to do. Every night there’s something to do and it’s kind of remarkable. The kids are getting such a great experience. They go to movies, bowling allies, pool parties, baseball games. It’s changed and I think they do a good job.”
Lilly, currently the head coach at Independence, will have the unique opportunity to coach players he did several years ago. In 2016, his final year as the head coach at Woodrow Wilson, 2019 all-stars Logan Cook, Avante Burnett and Colton Wright were all freshmen under Lilly. Now, in addition to Independence lineman Isaac Jarrett, he’ll get the opportunity to coach them one last time.
“They’ve all been doing a great job down here,” Lilly said. “I think they’re having a great time. I don’t know where we’d be without all four of them. Some of the guys that are going Division I naturally didn’t come because they have to report, but these guys have come in, accepted their roles and they’re having pretty good camp.”
“I haven’t been around (Burnett, Cook and Wright) for two years, so you see how much they’ve grown into men. When I was there they were still boys and still didn’t have hair on their face. Now they’re here and they’re grown men and you can see (Woodrow Wilson head coach) Street (Sarrett) and them did a good job raising high character kids. They’re great kids and Isaac fits right in with them. That’s the beauty of this. You’re rivals on the field, but you get down here and make friends for life.”
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