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Sunday, May. 19, 2019
The dream of Friday Night Lights becomes a reality
by Randy Pascal

At this time of year, the glow of the Northern Lights has been known to mesmerize folks from these parts.

For 6'1" 320 local lineman Austin Hill, however, it was the lure of Friday Night Lights that caught the attention of the talented young football prospect - sort of.

After spending the past two seasons with the St Benedict Bears, the well spoken grade 11 student was recruited and accepted an offer to attend Saint Francis High School this fall, a private college prep school located in Athol Springs (New York), just outside of Buffalo.

Lining up on both sides of the ball with the Red Raiders, Hill and his teammates dropped their opener, 23-21, to the McDowell Trojans from Erie, Pennsylvania, but rebounded nicely on Saturday to stop University Prep from Rochester, 32-14.

"It was my first real "Friday Night Lights" experience, but it was "Saturday Night Lights" actually," said Hill. "I've never been part of something like that. The thing that really struck me was the pace, just how fast the game goes by down here."

In fact, it was a vision of the experience of the past two weeks that first ignited the thought of pursuing football in the United States for Hill. Visiting the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton (Ohio), several years back with his grandfather, Hill vividly recalled watching a short documentary, "Go Tigers", which followed the journey of the Massillon (Ohio) high school football team for one complete season.

Given that the school itself is located just ten minutes or so away from the Hall of Fame, Hill urged his grandfather to make a short side trip. "It's a high school stadium that fits 30,000 people," said Hill. "My jaw just dropped. I thought one way or another, I've got to experience something similar to this."

Of course, dreams mean very little without a healthy serving of talent, combined with a boatload of hard work. Seeking the opportunities that could make it happen, Hill would catch his first true break, just under a year ago, when he cracked the Team Ontario roster that competed against Team USA in Texas last January.

"When I came back from Team Ontario, and into this summer, I got a bunch of prep schools that got in touch with me," said Hill. Still, he wanted to show more. "A lot of those coaches can't come up and watch you, because we're so far away, so I realized it's pretty necessary for me to get out to the camps."

"It was non-stop camps. I got invited to a lot of stuff. My mom was very supportive in driving me down, and I've got lots of family that I could stay with." Attending workouts at McMaster and Western, and with the "Top Prospects" program, Hill would break through and earn MVP honours, overcoming some deficiencies that he still needs to work on.

"I'm not going to lie, I didn't test very well," he explained. "I'm not a lineman that's going to run the dash in a time that is going to "wow" you, and I realized that. The camp I won MVP, there were guys there that were 6'6" 320 pounds."

"But they don't have the attitude I have," Hill continued. "I went down there and I wanted to bury every single one of those linemen into the ground. On the ones on ones, something just happened and I didn't lose a single one on one."

Those who have seen Hill on the field, in Sudbury, are not at all surprised by this mindset. Those who know him only away from the field are shocked. "I don't really know where it comes from, I'm a really nice guy off the field and stuff," said Hill with a laugh.

"But something goes off in my head where I really don't like that guy across the line from me. I don't know exactly how to describe it. You're trying to get my guy, and I'm trying to protect my boy."

There were times, even dating back to his start with lacrosse, that his in-game aggressiveness could be cause for concern. "Luckily for me, I had coaches like Jamie Allen that gave me that "off" and "on" sort of switch," said Hill.

"He would tell me that this game, you can be aggressive, but this game, you need to tone it down." In a local football scene where he often would physically dominate his opponents, Hill needed a stiffer test.

"It's a different game down here," he said. "If you get an unecessary roughness penalty for driving someone into the ground, you probably get a medal. It's a different attitude. Everyone has that mentality, for the most part."

More importantly, everyone also has the athletic build to allow for a great matchup of power on power. It's allowed Hill to settle into his element, much as he did while suiting up with Team Ontario.

"I think I've adjusted pretty well," he said. "I could see the strides I was making from the first play to the last, I could feel myself getting better." Lining up both at centre (offense) and nose guard (defense), Hill is looking to keep his options open.

"Quite honestly, I'm probably built more for nose guard, but I think I'm a better centre, largely because I've played it for almost ten years. It all depends on where a college coach would want me, and I would go wherever they want me, but long term, I would really like to play centre."

The truth, for Hill, is that he has put himself in a position where the ultimate goal of an NCAA Division I football scholarship is not out of the question. It's also not a given.

"The first thing, for me, is probably my grades, quite honestly," he said. "If you have really good grades, that can make you stand out - and I'm not just saying that because that's what mom would say. It is true."

"That, and I've got to get in a little bit better shape. We play a fast offense here. If you come down out of shape, you're not going to stay out of shape very long." Certainly not once the bright lights start shining upon you, the "Friday Night Lights" that are an absolute way of life, in Athol Springs (NY), and hundreds of other cities, just like it, in the United States of America.

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