KEALAKEKUA, Hawaii >> Overcast, cool mornings are welcome in the heat of impending summer.
For Harry Hill, it just means he continues to warm up and stretch before getting his daily workout. Some days it’s weight-room time. But most days, he is on the natural grass of Julian Yates Field.
“Harry is very quiet,” Konawaena football coach Brad Uemoto said. “The best part about Harry is sometimes, he didn’t grow up as a football fan or knowing the game. When you put him on to kick a field goal, he doesn’t know the magnitude sometimes when the game’s on the line, which is a good thing.”
Even so, Uemoto and his staff know his potential.
“Sometimes we joke that he might become the first Wildcat to make it to the NFL,” Uemoto said.
The gray clouds can be a reminder of difficult times. Successful moments. In a sport he never followed as a young boy, he tried football for the first time as a freshman in 2015. By junior year, the Konawaena soccer player was booming the spherical ball on kickoffs, field goals, extra points and punts. Hill had already impressive highlights at a Chris Sailer kicking camp on the mainland, but bis 58-yard field goal on a little-used free-kick play against Waiakea opened a lot of eyes.
But away from the field, Hill was enduring the roughest moments of his life. HIs mother, Emily, lost her life.
“She got pancreatic cancer. She kind of explained it like a flower. A flower blossoms and then eventually some get dots on them. She said she was one of those, and it would spread,” he said. “It was about six months. Our grandpa had it. He was one of the supposedly lucky ones. He got another three years. He was lucky.”
Hill stood firm for his younger brother, Tomo, and sister, Mika. After the season, Emily Hill passed away.
“It was scary. You see the process happening fast,” he said. “She always said, ‘Keep working hard at whatever you want. I want you to go to college. Try and make your life a success,’ “ Hill said. “Our dad’s real supportive. We’re lucky that we have him.”
Uemoto remembers Emily Hill well.
“She was a big supporter. She would work the concession stand and everything. She was definitely engaged in Harry’s future,” Uemoto said. “One of her wishes that she left with us was, ‘Make sure you look after Harry, make sure he goes in the right direction. There were points in there with Harry where there was tough love, points where I benched him, but he fought through it.”
It was at the GPA Combine in 2018, shortly after returning from a Chris Sailer camp, when Hill pulled his left hamstring.
“At the time, I had an injury with my back for almost a whole year. I was taking ibuprofen before, so I finished that first day. It was super sore. It was from not working out and not stretching,” Hill said.
Through senior year, injuries kept Hill off the field in a reduced role. Each time he recovered a bit, there was another challenge.
“During the season, it was a cold, rainy night in Honokaa. I wouldn’t keep myself warm throughout the game and stretch out, so eventually I kind of strained my hip flexor. That was actually pretty sore to kick. I got pretty mad,” Hill said.
Konawaena won the BIIF Division II title and Hill was never 100 percent last fall. Texas Tech had offered him a chance to make their roster. He had to cancel the trip.
“I was pretty disappointed because they were actually saying if I went there and did good, they would’ve offered me a scholarship. Hawaii, too, if I had my grades up earlier,” he said. “My grades got better.”
Now, the 6-foot, 200-pound Hill has an opportunity. Hawaii offered him a preferred walk-on spot for the upcoming season. Hill will join the team for summer workouts in four weeks.
“He had some national attention and interest from several schools. His injury really grounded him. He realized that it can get taken away quick. He’s gotten healthy and he’s working hard,” Uemoto said. “Hawaii is excited. They have their returning starter going back, but if Harry can prove himself there, he could kick there the next four years.”
Hill’s work ethic was a game-changer for Konawaena.
“I think it’s how you make it with any opportunity. I feel like quarterbacks have kind of a swagger, almost, how Austin Ewing and them have a little bit of a cocky side. I’m not cocky, but I go in the locker room. They’re all my friends, and we have fun,” Hill said.
His definition of a good time is kicking every day, though he has tapered the repetitions from 100 as a freshman to an optimum 40. He’s listening to mom, working at his talent. Retrieving his own kicks, chasing down three or four footballs behind the goalposts.
“I’m lucky. Kicking all day and doing something I think I’m good at, it’s pretty fun,” he said.
Hill is a wee bit wistful about Konawaena practices. Coach Uemoto always had music pumping through the sound system at Yates Field. Sometimes, Hill would have an entire half-field to himself. Joy time. Now there are memories.
“The biggest reason why I like football is everyone gets all amped up. Last year, Paka Cacoulidis, he started yelling a bunch of stuff before a game in the locker room. He put on his helmet and banged his head into the lockers. Freshman year, actually, when I was still on JV, my two friends, they’re both cousins. I put on my helmet, we’re about to go practice.
“My big friend, he grabs me, ‘Eh, you’re ready for your first day of practice?’ He grabs my helmet, head-butts me even though he didn’t have a helmet on. Then his cousin comes over, he’s like, ‘Brah, that’s not a head butt.’ He grabs my helmet, head-butts me even harder (with no helmet on). Then my other friend, he was like, ‘That was soft.’ He grabs my helmet, he head butts me. Then they both put on a helmet and full-on ram each other in the head.”
It was quite the awakening. Hill still beams about it.
“They’ve all heard it, but I said, what about a concussion? You don’t even have a helmet on,” he recalled. “They said, ‘Don’t need a helmet.’ ”
He warms up for a good hour, mostly basics, but also some trick kicks from the sideline near the goal line. When he goes deep, he is wide by a couple of yards, to the right, on his first two attempts from 58. Both kicks are wondrous. A tremendously high arc, plenty to spare, maybe 6-7 yards. The sound is heavy, the impact is not common among high school kickers.
Then he tweaks it. A slightly lower kick, all aces through the uprights from 58. The weight-room work. The daily work on the field. Losing the weight he gained during his recovery. He might be in the best shape of his life, through he squirms a bit at the thought of mentioning his bench-press and squat numbers.
“I work out with my friend, Cyrus Jumawan and Avery Blanco, our center. They keep a journal. I just try and remember what I did,” Hill said. “I’d like to be 200 pounds, but leaner.”
Hill considers Tim Horn, the former Punahou standout kicker, as one of the best he has seen in prep football. His favorite athlete, though, didn’t play football. Not officially.
“David Beckham, do you know him? We’re both English. I’ve got a little bit. He was asked to kick a field goal one time. He kicked a 60 yarder. I saw this video, they said he naturally has the perfect technique for kicking a football,” Hill said.
At UH, he will have time to absorb and learn. Later in the summer, he’ll be at another Chris Sailer camp with college and aspiring pro kickers.
“He’ll do fine up at UH,” Uemoto said. “And he’s only a short plane ride away.”