KEALAKEKUA — The next set of uprights Harry Hill takes aim at won’t be too far from home.
Hill, a Konawaena senior and one of the state’s best kickers, has locked up a deal to be an invited walk-on to the University of Hawaii, where he will have an opportunity to earn a scholarship.
“I’m really honored to get the chance,” Hill said shortly after inking his letter of intent on Thursday. “I appreciate all the support I’ve had from my coaches, parents and really everybody. It’s been great.”
Hill graduates as one of the best pure specialists the BIIF has seen, picking up both the placekicking and punting duties for the Wildcats. It was an anomaly— or intentional— if one of his kickoffs didn’t end up in the end zone, and his point after attempts were nearly automatic — something that can’t always be said at the high school level.
“Like I’ve said in the past, really good teams have really good special teams, most notably a good kicker,” Konawaena head coach Brad Uemoto said. “He was such a weapon for us. We were lucky to have him.”
It was Hill’s hope to end up at Hawaii, where he is thinking about pursuing agriculture.
“One of the coaches told me about their focus on keeping local players here, playing for Hawaii,” Hill said. “I’m looking forward to being a part of it.”
Hill gained quite the following in Konawaena Green, often being urged by the crowd in Kealakekua to boot the ball out of the end zone with “Harry” chants. Sometimes, if the wind was right, it would even go through the goal posts, drawing additional cheers from the Wildcat faithful.
With his penchant for going long, Hill inherited the “Touchback Harry” nickname from his predecessor John Replogle — an all-state kicker for the Wildcats — who was known as “Touchback Johnny.”
“We told him to kick it into the end zone, and he would do it almost every time,” Uemoto said. “It was a big advantage for us to have other teams consistently starting at their 20.”
Hill was a soccer player before he became known for his leg on the gridiron. But it didn’t take long for him to find out that he enjoyed kicking through uprights more than aiming at a net.
“Kicking all day is kind of boring unless it’s for a good reason,” Hill said. “This team was the best reason.”
There were two performances by Hill during his time as a Wildcat that put him in elite territory.
During Konawaena’s seven-overtime Division II state title game in 2017 against Lahainaluna, Hill nailed two field goals, 7 of 8 PATs and recorded five touchbacks at Aloha Stadium. Most of those attempts came in clutch time, including a 32-yard boot that kept the game going in a sixth OT.
But the moment that put Hill in the record books was when he drilled a 58-yard free kick field goal at Waiakea. The free kick was made possible by an obscure and rarely used fair catch kick rule. After Konawaena made a fair catch on a punt, Hill lined up and was free to blast away. The last successful fair catch kick in the NFL was made in 1976.
“I’ll always remember that,” Hill said of his record-setting kick.
More Wildcats head to next level
Four other Wildcats made their college choices known on Thursday. Kalai Santiago (WR/DB) and Orion Smith (RB/DB) are heading to Butte College in California, while Avery Blanco (OL) and Kealakai Kihe (WR/LB) will play for Pacific Lutheran University in Washington.
All four – along with Hill and Kapoina Bailey, who signed a rugby scholarship on Thursday with Lindenwood University — played roles in Konawaena’s run to the state runner-up finish.
“I’ll just remember all the untracked hours here, trying to get better,” Santiago said. “It took so much hard work to get to that state championship. That had a big impact on me.”
“We are a small-town school, but we always have big expectations,” Smith added.
Butte is a perennial power in the junior college ranks, and the one-time home of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
“It’s pretty exciting, honestly,” Santiago said. “I don’t know what to expect yet but I know it will be a lot more work.”
Smith joked that he’s the “prep guy” of the pair, and has been bugging Santiago with what they have to work on to be ready.
“It’s going to be fun,” Smith said. “It’s a small college town, so it felt a lot like our community here.”
Blanco and Kihe will be joining a big Hawaii contingent at Pacific Lutheran, a NCAA D-III school.
There are 14 players in the Lutes’ incoming class from Hawaii, including Blanco, Kihe and Waiakea’s Cheyn Tam-Switzer. There’s already a slew of Aloha State talent on the Pacific Lutheran roster, including former Hawaii Preparatory Academy standout Alex Brost (K/DB).
“There is a squad of Hawaii people up there,” Blanco said. “That was a big part of it for me.”
Kihe agreed, and added that they will never forget their roots at Konawaena.
“It all went by so fast, but there were so many good memories here,” Kihe said. “We had a ton of fun but are ready for this next step.”