When the Chiefs called to offer Justin a contract following a standout four-year career at Akron, there was no bigger champion for him than his father, who expressed and preached the opportunity before him-sharing that God always had a plan at a time in which his son needed to hear that message.
Justin had hoped to be drafted.
And during the darkest hours of his life, Randy leaned on Justin to handle the toughest news their family could receive.
"[Randy] talked to Justin before he talked to me," Michelle Lillard, Justin's mother, explained. "He told him that he only had so much time left. He didn't want me to worry and he felt that Justin could handle it, which he did. He took care of everything."
Despite his health problems and walking with a cane for a good majority of Justin's life, Randy was the reason Justin first got into sports. That was their thing. He never coached his son, but he would always share what he saw with him when he got home that night after practice or a game.
The best game of Justin's college career came with his father in the stands against Michigan. It was a big opportunity for Akron-a Mid-America team-to be playing in the "Big House" against a Big 10 powerhouse program.
Justin remembers his father's words to him after making the long drive to Ann Arbor for that game:
"You better get a pick-six for me after I made that drive," he laughed.
Early in the fourth quarter, Justin picked off his second pass of the game off Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner, and this one he took back 27 yards for the touchdown-pointing to his father in the stands at the end of the play.
You better get a pick-six for me after I made that drive."
- Justin's father after driving to see him play agianst Michigan
Battling his own health issues at that time, Randy was there for his son to witness what Justin calls the greatest game he's ever played. Justin was able to give his father the game ball after the game-a memory he recalls now like it was yesterday.
"The thing I remember most is it was never about him having pity for himself," Justin said of his father. "He was always about asking others how they were doing and making sure they were doing well."
"His dad was a huge people person," Paige explained. "He was friends with everyone. At his funeral, there were all different kinds of people there. You could tell his dad just really loved people."
"He fought for so long, and he raised four boys into four men and one girl into a woman," Michelle added. "They have their own lives and their own memories of him now."
In a way, Justin's latest injury was a blessing. He had over a month to share with his dad and have the conversations he wouldn't otherwise had if he were still playing.
"At the time, I didn't really see it that way (as a blessing) until everything happened over that next month," Justin explained. "I was wondering what I had done wrong and played that 'Why me?' type of game at the time. I was thinking how everything was starting to go in my favor and how I was picking things up on the field.
"It ended up being a blessing in disguise even though I didn't really see it at first."
When Justin first went to see his dad after being placed on injured reserve, he remembered the way in which he father carried himself.
"We were in his hospital room and he didn't look as good as he was sounding, but you could never tell by how happy he was," Justin said. "We sat there and he had some tea while I had some ice cream and we just talked about life. We talked about everything – it wasn't just about football."
A lot of people don't get that time with their loved ones at the end, and Justin made sure to make the most of his.
The lessons he learned over that month and even in watching him during the years preceding his father's passing are what Justin will take with him to the next chapter in his life.
"To always be kind to others," Justin noted. "That was the biggest thing he taught me. Also, just to always be happy, because there's so much of life to look forward to. Whether football is here or whether you're in a different career, it's about treating people with kindness. There's a lot of people who are in much worse situations than you, so be thankful for the things that you have.
I'm ready to do everything I can to help this team win and be the player that Chiefs Kingdom wants me to be. It's about taking that next step. I feel more than ready."
- Justin on his mindset this season
"I think a lot of that is something that's instilled in you when you're younger. You kind of follow what you see, and that's what he was. That was kind of a lesson that he didn't have to verbalize because he showed it. He was always kindhearted. Even with how sick he was, he was able to open up doors for older people and still greet people at the door at church. He was still incredible even being as sick as he was."
One of the things Justin spent a lot of time talking with his father about in the last days of his life were about "being the best" he could be-something that truly resonated with him.
"I couldn't say that I was doing everything that I could to be the best athlete and the best person that I could be," Justin explained. "Once he passed away, it kind of hit home with me and I realized what he really meant. I changed my diet, I lost some weight that I had put on from my first injury and I just took on the mindset that life is a lot less stressful knowing that there's peace out there. It's about knowing that it's not always about football and that you have to live beyond that.
"Football is my life right now and it's about giving my all to that so that I never look back and wish I would have done more. I also never want to find myself in a situation where I lose someone and wish I had said more. It's about not leaving things unsaid or leaving actions undone. I feel like I'm a different player than I was before. Making plays is one thing, but I'm seeing things from a different perspective.
"I'm ready to do everything I can to help this team win and be the player that Chiefs Kingdom wants me to be. It's about taking that next step. I feel more than ready. I appreciate every single play and I want to play hard for myself, for my dad, for my family and for all the fans."
Michelle sees many similarities in Justin and his father.
"He's a fighter for everything," she said of Justin. "He doesn't give up."