2011 All County Football: Salisbury's Hillie the Defensive Player of the Year
By Ronnie Gallagher
SALISBURY — When Ryan Crowder tries to make a highlight tape for one of his players, he knows he can get 100 plays on it.
The Salisbury defensive coordinator had a tough time making one for linebacker Kavari Hillie.
“We started looking at Kavari’s and we had 150 from the last two seasons,” Crowder said. “We had a second highlight film that anyone would love to have.”
There are so many Hillie highlights, in fact, that he was the choice as the 2011 Salisbury Post Defensive Player of the Year.
The Hornet coaches agree one highlight stood out over all the others. It came this season against Central Carolina Conference rival Thomasville.
The Bulldogs were facing fourth-and-inches. At the same instant the ball was snapped, Hillie was in midair, flying over the line to make the stop. If ESPN had been at Cushwa Stadium that night, it would have easily made the Top 10 plays.
Head coach Joe Pinyan still marvels at Hillie’s instincts.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, you get an offsides call,” Pinyan said. “Kavari timed it perfectly. You don’t get a lot of that. But sometime during that game, he had to be listening to the cadence. He did a great job of understanding what the other teams were going to do and how to react to it.”
“He looked like LeVar Arrington of Penn State about 10 years ago,” Crowder added.
OK, that’s one highlight. There’s at least 149 more for the senior who averaged 15 tackles a game for the 11-3 Hornets. He becomes the fourth linebacker under Pinyan — Don Ambers in 2003, Harry Howard in 2004 and Pierre Jimenez in 2008 are the others — to win the award.
Middle linebacker Hillie made the defensive calls, he nurtured his teammates and he led by example.
A hard-hitting example.
“This sport is not for soft people,” Hillie said, “especially when you’re in the middle. Everything goes through you. It’s coming at you whether you want it to or not.”
Hillie wanted it to. And you never saw him showing off after a monstrous stop.
“Making a big play isn’t exciting to him because he knows he’s supposed to make them,” Pinyan said.
Like the one against Thomasville.
“It just came out of me,” Hillie said. “I zoned everything out and anticipated the cadence.”
Hillie had his ups and downs during his career. But 2011 was different.
“My Pops always told me I had the potential,” Hillie said. “I didn’t see it. This whole season was like a mental process. Over time, I worked harder at certain things.”
Like being a leader. As Carver drove downfield on the last drive of the first playoff game, Hillie never wavered, encouraging instead of berating.
“I told my teammates, ‘Keep playing, keep your head up, don’t be nervous,’ ” Hillie recalled. “When you play nervous, you mess up. Be smart.”
Salisbury won that game and the next before being ousted in the third round — by Thomasville.
“Kavari was as disappointed over finishing 11-3 as I was,” Pinyan said.
Hillie, also the CCC Defensive Player of the Year, wants to continue in college.
“The sad part is, he’s 5-foot-10,” Pinyan sighed. “The next level is looking for bigger guys. But I don’t think you’ll find anybody who plays with a bigger heart. He may run a 4.8, 4.9 in the 40 but he plays like 4.6. If we had played without Hillie, it would’ve been a long year.”
Hillie said he is looking at Hargrave Military Academy to get another year of seasoning to prove himself to four-year schools.
“I don’t plan on this being my last football season,” Hillie announced.
That’s good. There’s surely another fourth-and-inches situation just waiting to become Hillie Highlight No. 151.