Robert Sillimon II’s leadership style as a football player could be summed up by two things: hard work and a smile.
Sillimon graduated from West Lauderdale in May 2012, and he left a lasting impressing on those who knew him from his time as a student and a football player. Richard Thomas, who was a year younger than Sillimon, played quarterback for the Knights and would regularly hand the ball off to Sillimon, who was a fullback.
“He’s one of those people you didn’t want to let down,” Thomas recalled. “The first thing that pops up to mind about him as a teammate was that he was always smiling, always happy. His smile could brighten up your day. He wasn’t a very verbal person, but he’s one of the few people who could lead and motivate people without saying a word.”
Sillimon died March 18 at the age of 25. When Thomas found out, it made him feel numb.
“I couldn’t believe it was true. Someone I played ball beside, someone at age 25 passed away,” Thomas said. “It made me think about how you have to really cherish every day and not take a day for granted. I was heartbroken for his family (when I found out). Unexpected deaths are the worst.”
Glen Sanders, who was head coach at West Lauderdale when Sillimon was a senior, said Sillimon started for the Knights as a 10th grader and was able to earn the respect of both coaches and teammates by dedicating himself to the game.
“He was a really good football player for us,” Sanders said. “He was a hard worker — he was a quiet kid on the football field, but he did his job and went about his work and made himself into a really good football player because of how hard he worked. He was a tremendous young man, and he was a guy who enjoyed what he was doing and did things the right way, not just with football but with everything. He was just a tremendous young man.”
Those kinds of players are important to have, Sanders added.
“He led by example,” Sanders said. “He did his job every day and worked hard in practice. That’s the type of player other guys can rally around. He wasn’t a rah rah guy, but he did his thing and did it well.”
That’s not to say Sillimon didn’t have a personality.
“He was the kind of guy who his teammates wanted to be around,” Sanders said. “He was a quiet guy, but he was a leader.”
Said Thomas, “We would be in a team meeting, and I would look up at Robert, and he would get to smiling and laughing. He was always a positive person.”
The news of Sillimon’s death was difficult to swallow, but the fond memories of coaching him as a Knight will forever stick out in Sanders’ mind.
“It’s obviously a horrible tragedy,” Sanders said. He will be missed. From a coaching standpoint, coaching players like him was a tremendous honor for me, and I was glad I was able to do that.”
Funeral services for Sillimon will be at 2 p.m. Saturday at Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church with the Rev. Johnny McDonald officiating.