When Elijah Lilly was involved in a terrifying car accident Aug. 29, the New Mexico junior wide receiver really didn’t see the proverbial life flash before his eyes.
Instead, he had just one thought, even after he wiped blood from his head moments after the collision that took place three days before the Lobos’ season opener.
“I was just thinking to myself, ‘I hope I’ll be able to play,'” Lilly said. “When the paramedics came that was the first question I asked them. ‘Will I be able to play on Saturday?'”
Lilly did play and he played well, converting a key 51-yard touchdown catch-and-run in New Mexico’s 62-30 win over Incarnate Word.
Lilly’s speed and his conversion from defensive back to wide receiver less than a year ago has made him an important player for UNM. The 34½-point underdog Lobos will need Lilly’s top-notch burners when they play at No. 5 Wisconsin today at 10 a.m.
Lilly claims to be the fastest player on the team with fellow wide receiver Jay Griffin IV giving him the greatest competition, but he wouldn’t reveal his time in the 40-yard dash. He said he was recovering from shoulder surgery when the Lobos were timed in the spring.
Lilly won’t back down from racing against Griffin, but maybe after the season.
“(Griffin) ran track,” Lilly said of the sophomore speedster. “We’re going to have put that to the test because I think I’m going to run track as well. That will be fun.”
Lilly’s speed was on display with 14 seconds left before halftime and the Lobos clinging to a 28-16 lead. UNM needed a big play and he came through, doing most of the damage after catching the pass from Tevaka Tuioti.
“I was trying to get as many yards as I could before halftime,” Lilly said. “I was thinking to score or if I can go out of bounds. Once I saw the lane, and (wide receiver Delane Hart-Johnson) gave me a good block, I just went for the end zone.”
Three days before that game, Lilly was in a car with teammates Emmanuel Harris, Nahje Flowers and Bobby Cole.
“We were just going to the pet store,” Lilly said. “Some lady ran a red light and ran into us. The airbags went off. I got out the car. I thought I was fine. I was sitting there and I started to touch my head. It was throbbing.
“I pulled my hand down and I saw blood. I put my head down and blood was just leaking over my eyes … It was really scary. It could’ve been a lot worse.”
Lilly said he was upset and he reacted by posting a photo of the cut to his head on Twitter. He later took it off social media after he calmed down and was joking around with friends at the hospital. The doctor gave him bandages, ointment for the cut and ibuprofen, said Lilly, who suffered the worst result of the four in the car.
“It was serious enough that they scared the heck out of everybody,” said UNM coach Bob Davie, adding that he is concerned about his players’ safety. It is one thing that makes him nervous that his team no longer stays at a hotel the night before home games, when he and his staff would know where there players are, because of athletic department budget issues.
“It’s something I talk about all the time is just safety, safety, safety,” Davie said.
Lilly, also the team’s kick-return specialist, is excited to contribute on offense. He said he feels natural to play wide receiver and that the position switch was meant to be. He said he was approached about playing wide receiver last winter when talks began that the Lobos would switch from the triple-option offense to the spread.
He said he was on board for making the switch because he wanted to do all he could to help his team win and not suffer another seven-game losing streak as it did to end the 2017 regular season.
Now, he has great confidence in his skills and his speed. He says foes will be in trouble if those defenses decided to play man to man because his speed and Griffin’s quickness will “cause a lot of mismatches.”
“I don’t think there’s anyone out there who can match up with us speed-wise,” Lilly said.