Friday Night Hero: Salisbury's Kavari Hillie
By Ronnie Gallagher
Joe Pinyan has always churned out quality running backs with his wishbone offense. But because runners usually dominate the headlines, you forget that Pinyan also turns out quality linebackers.
Like Don Ambers. And Harry Howard. And Brandon Clodfelter.
Now introducing (drumroll, please) Kavari Hillie.
The 5-foot-10, 230-pound sophomore has burst onto the scene after two games. When a shoulder injury sidelined senior Stephen Carter, Pinyan decided to go with the youngster.
In a 46-10 win against East Rowan on Friday, Hillie finished with four tackles, two for losses, two forced fumbles and a sack.
The performance really didn’t surprise Pinyan, but he wasn’t planning to play Hillie a great deal because he missed so much of the summer workouts.
“We felt we had to get Kavari’s attention, but we didn’t want to lose a football game because we wanted to get his attention,” Pinyan said.
So Hillie played in the opener against South Rowan and actually made one of the signature plays against East when he smothered Mustangs quarterback Jamey Blalock.
“I saw Darien Rankin doing a good job of holding him up,” Hillie remembered. “He tried to juke back my way. I laid him out.”
That jump-started Hillie’s night.
“He feeds off little things,” Pinyan said. “That set the tone early. He had a big play right there and it just kept building and building. He’s going to make a lot of plays like that.”
Hillie praised veteran linebackers Carter, Linares Pagan and Chris Bruce, saying, “They’re teaching me the ropes of getting that varsity mentality.”
But the varsity mentality didn’t officially hit home until he faced South’s star running backs D’Andre Harris and Thomas Lowe.
“After going up against those good running backs, the jitters went away,” Hillie said. “I’ve got a feel for what I can do now. I felt good to be able to tackle two 1,000-yard rushers.”
Pinyan smiles at the outspoken Hillie.
“He’s not short on words,” Pinyan said. “He has a lot of fun playing.”
“Talking just brings my game up when I get amped up,” Hillie said.
He could talk confidently after Friday’s performance. Pagan plopped on a fumble during one East exchange, “and Kavari was right in the middle of it,” Pinyan said. “That’s really big for a sophomore in just his second game.”
Pinyan hopes Hillie won’t be too silly and understands how much potential he has.
“He fits the mold of an Ambers, Howard and Clodfelter,” Pinyan said. “He’s going to be that type of linebacker if he continues to get better. Now, he could go the other way if there’s too much clowning. He’s having fun. But when the lights come on, he gets serious.”
Hillie is convinced improvement is a certainty, and again praises Pagan, Bruce and Carter.
“I think I can get a lot better,” Hillie said. “They’re going to help me get better.”
After two varsity games, Hillie has a fan in his coach.
“To be a linebacker, you have to be a special breed anyway,” Pinyan said. “You have to eat drink and live football. I think that’s what Kavari really wants to do.”