For the great majority of Linfield football players the path to the 'Catdome is a familiar road. During high school, our future 'Cats start talking to coaches from various programs, go on visits, narrow choices, and finally choose to don the Red and Purple. Heck, that was my story 17 years ago, and one that hold ups time and again, year after year. Developing players over a 4 year period is a key component to the success of Linfield football during the past 56 consecutive years but there's another story on the Linfield roster.
They are the stories of a small segment of Wildcats that took the road less traveled to get to Linfield. Each of these stories are different, but with each, you'll learn about the adversity, perseverance, and self-discovery and that these players faced in both their journey to Linfield and during their time as a Wildcat.
I asked three players that transferred to Linfield to share their experiences and story in a three part series we'll be posting over the next week. Leading us off is Linfield running back Josh Hill. Josh came to the 'Catdome in 2010 and after a year of finding himself, the running back exploded with a banner year in 2011 that culminated in being named 1st team All-NWC running back and voted the team's most valuable offensive player. I'm very thankful for Josh sharing his story and I think you'll enjoy hearing about his road to the 'Catdome.--------------------
|Photo Courtesy of Brad Thompson. Photo Courtesy of Brad Thompson. View Brad's photos here..|
#7 Josh Hill, Running Back, Junior (Portland, Oregon)
For me, I have taken a different route than most in becoming a Linfield Wildcat. As my senior year wrapped up at Westview High School I was being recruited more as an athlete than at QB, but my dream had always been to play quarterback at the division one level and most of the schools that had offered me only wanted me to play DB or a hybrid/slot type. Then about two games into my senior year, the Air Force Academy offered me a scholarship to play QB and an opportunity to get a world class education. It seemed at the time to be the perfect fit for me and that is where I decided to commit and play football.
After completing a 2 month basic training I received word from home that my grandfather had been diagnosed with cancer. This is where things really took a turn for me and I was forced to make some of the toughest decisions I had ever been faced with. My brother Ray was overseas in Afghanistan fighting in the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment at the time and there was no other immediate family that lived in Oregon who could help my grandparents. My grandparents, who had raised me since age 1, were in need of some help and it was agreed that they were going to move closer to family so they would could get some help. Being two people that had given me so much and sacrificed so many things in order to help me succeed growing up, I felt obligated to find a way to be closer to them so I could help them in any way possible. As soon as I could, I called my grandfather and informed him of my decision to leave and move to California with them in order to help make this process easier on my grandmother. The conversation didn't go so well as he did not want me to give up everything I had worked for and accomplished just to help them out. So, after a long and in-depth conversation, I decided to stay at the academy and finish out the year.
After that conversation I found myself not being able to give my all as a cadet and as a football player. The game that I loved so much, as far back as I could remember, began to be an afterthought. Due to my grandfather's condition he was not able to travel and that meant he was never going to be able to see me play. My grandfather had been at every single game I ever played in my life. It didn't matter if it was basketball, football, baseball, wall ball at recess, my grandfather found a way to be there. After a big scrimmage one Saturday right before the season was about to start I found my interest for the game at that point had diminished. I stopped working hard during lifting, couldn't pay attention during film and team meetings and often found myself counting down the minutes until practices were over. I was not happy knowing I was far away from home, unable to do anything for my grandparents. At that point I knew it was time to go. I submitted my resignation and after a lengthy and tedious process I was on my way to California to meet up with my grandparents and figure out a way I could continue my education and play football, along with help and support them.
After I arrived in Redlands, CA it was decided between my grandfather and his doctor that staying in Oregon was his best so he could be monitored closely and because the climate was better suited for his condition. So I finished out the term, packed my things, and was headed home to Portland. Once back in Portland I enrolled half-time at Portland Community College and picked up jobs at 24 hour fitness and the Nike employee store to help with financial needs resulting from the medical burden that was now placed on my grandparents due to my grandfather's cancer. At this point I had pretty much accepted that I was no longer going to play football again and that I needed to start thinking about what I was going to do next school and career wise.
A few weeks rolled by when I received a call from a close friend and old trainer, Matt James. He called to see how I was doing and wanted to know how things had been going since high school etc... long story short he made some phone calls to a few schools he was pretty connected with(Linfield being one) and generated some interest for me. After some things fell through with Portland State I received a call from Coach Fendall. He told me they were interested in me as an athlete and wanted me to come down and visit. At first, I wasn't all too excited about traveling to McMinnville and had no idea what to expect. I met up with an old high school teammate and a Linfield all-time-great, Paul Nishizaki. We toured the campus and caught up on what had been going on since he left high school. I met up with a few coaches from the coaching staff to talk about what their plans for me would be and made it a brief trip. I liked the coaches and the few players that I met were really nice and welcoming and I left Linfield with a good experience but was not yet sold on attending.
Some months went by and I dealt with some tough family situations regarding my grandfather so it was important to me to find a place to go to school that made me feel comfortable and made me feel like they were out for my best interest as a person and a student, not just a football player. The months went by and I periodically received phone calls from Coach Fendall just asking how I was doing and how my family was. Not once did he mention football. This meant a lot to me because after going through the whole recruiting process in high school then again after my first year in college it was important that I felt comfortable and connected to the staff that I was going to play for. The next fall as a sophomore I showed up to campus not knowing what to expect.
From day one, the upperclassman showed me a lot of love and support and made the transition to a new school so much easier. I moved to RB when I first came here and was introduced to Taylor Avritt, Simon, and Awill and from day one all of them made an extra effort to make me feel accepted and catch me up to learn the offense.
My first year at Linfield was difficult. I was dealing with family troubles along with juggling a new school and a new offense and often felt myself falling behind in both school and football. I didn't play a whole lot my first year at Linfield and was frustrated. I had a “mad at the world” type of attitude. I had not yet learned what it meant to be a Wildcat. For some reason when I came to Linfield I felt entitled to something, like the team owed me because of what I had accomplished in high school or where I had been previously. This was a constant battle for me as the season went on and for awhile I had given up. I wasn't doing well in the classroom, my family situation wasn't looking promising, and I wasn't receiving a lot of playing time. I clearly remember this day and it will probably be a day I won't forget anytime soon but I remember running out to practice late one day angry, and annoyed. I couldn't even tell you what was bothering me. Taylor Avritt pulled me aside and asked what was wrong. After a brief discussion he told me he was going to call me later and we would finish the talk.
That night Taylor called me up and we met up to talk. He heard me out and gave me some of the best advice I could have ever received. He broke down what it meant to be a Wildcat, what it took as a person, athlete, student, and all the characteristics this program had been built upon for years and years. That talk really helped me see and understand the true colors of the program and gave me a whole new outlook on the role that I was playing and what it was going to take to change that. I finally realized that it wasn't about me anymore, it didn't matter what I had done before I had got here. The only thing that mattered was the team and the success of the team. It wasn't my time yet and it was going to take a full-out commitment to the four Linfield football pillars to have an opportunity to make it my time. That talked changed my life and I owe a lot to Taylor and the rest of the Catback family of 2010 for the success I had in 2011. None of 2011 would have been possible if it wasn’t for the upperclassmen that pulled me through the tough times and supported me when I wanted to give up on everyone and everything around me. From that point on I knew I had come to the right place and I knew that I was in good hands. The support from the coaches, community, and teammates helped me during a very tough time in my life and because of their support I have been able to overcome and push through a situation that I’m not sure I would of overcame if it wasn't for guys like Taylor, Coach Fendall, and Coach Smith.
This past year for me was a reflection on the struggles that I have had to overcome. That is why I changed my number from 3 to 7. My grandfather’s first and last names both have 7 letters in them and I wanted to somehow represent his battle and fight with cancer with my play in the Catdome on Saturdays. He is one of the most amazing men I've ever met in my life, so it only seemed fitting, and it has been a symbol of perseverance for me that I wanted to represent for the rest of my football career. It reminds me every day I step on the practice field, head into the weight room, or suit up for a game that I can't quit, I can't stop working hard and that there is never an excuse to give up. In my short time at Linfield I have made some of the closest friends and have learned many valuable lessons.
- Josh Hill