Players of the Pine Belt: Lumberton WR/SS Kalyjah Willis

Players of the Pine Belt: Lumberton WR/SS Kalyjah Willis
Published: Aug. 4, 2023 at 7:05 PM CDT
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LUMBERTON, Miss. (WDAM) - The Willis name runs deep within Lumberton High School football.

Wide receiver/strong safety Kalyjah Willis is the youngest of four brothers who played for the Panthers.

Willis has developed his physical skills, but he said the most valuable thing he’s learned from his family was having the right mindset.

“Ain’t nobody better than you,” Willis said. “Ain’t nobody outworking you.”

“Once you got that mindset that you can beat anybody, you’ll be good when you get on the field.”

Lumberton head coach Jonathan Ladner arrived at the school during the start of Willis’ sophomore year.

Immediately after seeing him on the field, Ladner was enamored with the young man’s skill set.

“As a coach it makes play-calling a lot easier because I need to get him the ball a lot more,” Ladner said.

“He’s a guy (who) can present some problems to people because he’s quick, he’s shifty, and he can outrun you. He’s one of those guys where if you’re looking for a slot receiver or a slasher at running back, he’s the definition of what those guys really are.”

Though loaded with raw talent, Willis still had a long way to go on the field.

Today, the senior credits his head coach for unleashing his potential.

“Shoot, he stayed on me,” Willis said. “I remember times when I wanted to quit. (Coach) came right up and picked me off the ground. He told me to stay head on, stay head strong and get back after it.”

The Panthers are bouncing back after a second-round playoff loss in 2022.

Willis said that this season, he’s expecting his team to rebound in a big way.

“We’re gonna bring fire we didn’t have last year,”Willis said. “We’re a better team. A better, well-oiled team. We’re coached harder

“Last year, we were coached, but now it’s up to a new level of extreme.”

Lumberton kicks off the season on Aug. 25 on the road at Purvis High School.

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