Friday Night Hero: Salisbury's Kavari Hillie
By Ryan Bisesi
SALISBURY — Salisbury’s opener against East Rowan was a wake-up call to the Rowan County fans who figured the Hornets would go into a supposed post-championship lull.
For linebacker Kavari Hillie, it was a different kind of alarm. One that wasn’t as alluring to the ears.
Hillie felt he showed up to the season-opener out of shape and unprepared.
Not very “bang-bang” as he would say.
Against North Rowan last Friday, any painful memories were nullified with Hillie taking residence in the North Rowan backfield so much he should have paid rent. Hillie had lots of bangs, booms, pows, you name it. The senior linebacker sacked quarterback T.J. Allen twice and had 51/2 tackles, three of which went for losses in a 35-6 win. All of that came in 29 snaps the first-string defense played. Salisbury was only on defense for 35 plays total.
“I kind of felt sorry for the Allen kid just because it was like he didn’t have a chance,” Salisbury coach Joe Pinyan said. “It was one of those deals where every time he looked up, 43 was breathing down his neck.”
The series after Salisbury took a 7-0 lead, Hillie got his first sack of the year on second-and-11 with a tackle nine yards deep to force third-and-20.
“The main focus was to play the game and have fun,” Hillie said.
North couldn’t muster nearly any progress against its county rival, only managing one first down and minus-41 yards rushing. Allen’s long pass to Parker Smith was the lone highlight for the Cavs.
“I kind of got frustrated with how I was playing,” Hillie said. “It’s all in the mind. I calmed down and read my keys and everything fell into place.”
Salisbury’s defensive scheme calls for strength up the middle with nose guard, middle linebacker and safety as points of emphasis. The 5-foot-10, 220-pound Hillie looks to intensify his role and include himself as one of those strong points this year. Last year, Hillie, Darien Rankin and Tre Jackson best represented the Hornet D with Hillie earning Defensive MVP of the 2AA championship game. With Rankin and Jackson departed, the defense revolves around Hillie.
“Last year, he was kind of a silent leader,” Pinyan said. “This year he’s got to be the leader.”
Hillie moved to middle linebacker last year and appreciates his newfound presence in the ‘Hornet’ defensive scheme.
He’s obviously pretty comfortable.
“I feel like if I keep my head together, the rest of the defense will keep their heads together,” Hillie said.
Pinyan thinks Hillie could be a college player at the FCS level and that his speed at the combine and game speed are on totally different levels.
Hillie exemplified his role as leader on a defense that will play a pivotal role in the Hornets’ defense of their first title. So far, so good as Salisbury has allowed just six points and five first downs in the first two games heading into Friday’s much-anticipated showdown against West Rowan. The Hornet defense will need to resume its domination should it plan on ending a 37-game win streak in the county for the Falcons.
“I think our defensive kids, whether they want to say it or not, want to rally around him,” Pinyan said.