Eastern Randolph’s Lilly wants to make most of showcase game

Eastern Randolph’s Na’heim Lilly carries the ball against Randoleman during the regular-season finale at Randleman. (PJ WARD-BROWN/NORTH STATE JOURNAL)

RAMSEUR — Na’heim Lilly is glad to be playing in a football game this weekend. He just wishes it was a different game.

But the Eastern Randolph standout said he’ll aim to make the most of his opportunity in the Carolina Bowl Senior Showcase on Sunday in Gaffney, S.C.

“I had a good year,” Lilly said. “Didn’t get as far as I wanted. I didn’t get the job done.”

Lilly is one of the running backs for the North Carolina team, which takes on a South Carolina team.

For Lilly, who says he likely won’t sign with a college this month, this is a chance to showcase his skills.

“Hopefully, I get way more exposure,” he said.

He has been in contact with coaches from Charleston Southern and Mercer, but he said there might be other possibilities.

The all-star event replaces the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas, which was scrapped for the second year in a row because of the pandemic. It had been played in Spartanburg, S.C.

Sunday’s game will include players from public and private schools. Because North Carolina’s state finals are slated for this weekend, selected players from teams in those four games won’t be able to compete in the showcase event. That means players from Greensboro Dudley will have to skip the game as the Panthers play in the Class 3-A state final.

Lilly has trained with quarterback Alonza Barnett of Greensboro Grimsley, so he’ll have some familiarity with a member of the roster.

Eastern Randolph was the West Region’s top seed in Class 1-A with an undefeated record. The Wildcats exited with a third-round loss to Murphy.

Coach Burton Cates of Eastern Randolph said Lilly put together a stellar season despite limited playing time in some situations because the Wildcats blew out several opponents.

Lilly racked up 1,600 rushing yards and 35 touchdowns, with 33 coming on the ground. He said his favorite play was something simple.

“Dive right up the middle and I’d read the nose guard (and make a move),” he said.

Lilly had a four-year career with the Wildcats, though he was mostly an outside linebacker as a freshman. He moved to running back as a sophomore. For his career, he amassed almost 5,900 rushing yards and 85 rushing touchdowns.

“That makes me proud that I tried to do my part,” Lilly said.

Those numbers came with a reduced schedule for his junior season because of the reconfigured season based on the pandemic. This year, the Wildcats had a regular-season game cancelled and then had a first-round bye in the state playoffs.

Lilly, who turns 18 years old next week, also plays basketball and is a member of the track and field team at Eastern Randolph. Players were to report to Gaffney by midweek for practices, so he’ll miss some basketball activity in advance of the football all-star game.

Eastern Randolph’s Elias Alston at cornerback and John Maness at defensive end were listed as alternates but they hadn’t been added for the game by the beginning of the week.

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