Isaiah’s one tough Hill to climb at Eagle Point
EAGLE POINT — Even as his football team was taking its lumps the past couple of years, Eagle Point standout Isaiah Hill knew there would be better days to come.
And in keeping with his typical blue-collar approach to life, Hill didn’t worry about any of it.
He just showed up each day, put in the hard work and tackled each day as an opportunity to narrow that gap.
Now in his senior season, Hill and the Eagles are reaping the rewards of such efforts — and will be hoping to take that one step further Friday when they play host to rival Crater at 7 p.m. at Eagle Stadium.
The Comets enter the Midwestern League affair unbeaten in league play at 4-0 and 4-1 overall.
Eagle Point (2-3, 2-2 MWL) could make a big leap toward clinching a potential Class 5A state playoff bid with a victory, since the league’s top three teams automatically qualify.
And, of course, there’s the personal factor that always comes with a rivalry game. The Eagles haven’t beaten Crater since 2016.
“This is going to be a huge game for us,” says Hill, whose personal losing streak to the Comets branches far beyond the varsity level. “Every single year I’ve played Crater, we’ve always lost, ever since I was in second grade. This game is going to be a big one since it’s my last season and could be my only time to beat them, so this is a big one for me.”
If there is an Eagle that stands to be a major factor Friday, it’s Hill.
From his role as the heart and soul of EP’s defense to his breakout capabilities at running back, the 5-foot-9, 155-pounder carries an impact that goes far beyond those measurables.
“He has that confidence about him and he brings it out on the field,” says third-year EP head coach Erik Johnson. “He’s not worried about anything. He just wants to play ball and just brings that spark and that momentum that we need to the team.”
As one of the Eagles’ leading tacklers, Hill has helped his defense limit opponents to about 220 yards of total offense thus far.
He’s also provided about 283 yards of total offense and joins senior Jimmie Copeland as the team’s leading scorers with four touchdowns apiece.
“Obviously having a leader like Isaiah Hill, who brings that energy and that spark, that’s really what has helped us this year,” says Johnson. “It’s good to have those kinds of guys out there.”
“You’re always waiting for those guys that have that experience with a couple years under their belt coming into their senior year,” adds the coach. “Certain guys have that switch where they’re good and solid through high school but when it comes to their senior year, it’s just a different vibe. He’s one of those guys that has that for us.”
Hill was the team’s leading rusher in 2019, but focused more on the defensive side this past spring. A three-year starter, Hill has taken it upon himself to grab the reins this season and ensure all of his teammates are on the same page prior to each snap.
“I’ve always been that guy to try and be the leader of the team and always help out as much as I can, even if I’m not playing,” says the 17-year-old standout. “Me being able to help the younger guys under me to produce as well as I can when I’m out has been really important to me. That’s my big thing, I want to do whatever I can to help them.”
Defensively, that has included steady involvement and unflinching desire to make every tackle.
“Fundamentally, he’s one of the best tacklers we have,” says Johnson, “and one of the things he has that’s really tough to teach is his anticipation. He does a very good job of being ready and in the right place at the right time.”
“So far teams have been trying to get to him in games,” adds the coach, “and the majority of time he finds a way out of it and finds a way into the play. For interior linemen, he’s not an easy target to block with his speed. He’s just so slick.”
Much of that will to battle through all odds stems from the fact that Hill isn’t exactly the biggest linebacker in the conference.
“It’s all about just being able to keep my composure and a lot of practice and coaches helping me read my keys and know where to go,” says Hill. “Even though I’m a smaller guy, I know how to stand my ground and hit hard. It gives me motivation when people come at me and are like, “He’s smaller, we’re just going to run over him.’ For me it’s like, yeah, not today.”
The added satisfaction he gets from rising to the challenge on defense also plays a factor on offense, where he shares time with junior David Brown, who has rushed for nearly 250 yards in his own right.
“Isaiah just runs very hard,” says Johnson. “There’s been multiple plays this year where he’s broken tackles and turned nothing into big gains. That’s just willpower and just his effort because, again, he’s not really big but he just has that passion to do it.”
Hill says it’s the defense that wins games for Eagle Point, but there are some definite perks to playing offense.
“I love having the eyes on me and that type of feeling of like, if I touch the ball, hopefully I can make something happen here and get put on the news,” he says with a laugh.
A win over Crater would certainly help all those things come full circle, but the Eagles know that won’t come easy.
The Comets have done a good job of adjusting their system this year to fit their personnel, with senior Caden Lasater making his bid for the best player in the MWL who doesn’t wear a Thurston uniform.
Lasater has rushed for 461 yards and four TDs to stabilize Crater’s offense, and scored nine times overall thanks to his exploits on defense and special teams. The linebacker had 11 tackles last week against Willamette and Crater tacked on four more takeaways to increase that total to 14 thus far.
“They’re well-coached and they still have athletes, like always,” Johnson says of the Comets. “It’s a rivalry game so you throw records out the window. They’re going to bring their best game they’ve played yet and so are we. That’s just the joy of playing rivalry games.”
“With them being ranked ahead of us with a better league record,” adds the coach, “it’s kind of a chance for us to do some good things. We’re expecting a challenge and accepting the opportunity. ”
And in many ways, according to Hill, more confident and prepared than before.
“We have come a long way since the past two years, especially having more seniors this year,” he says. “We’ve been getting more in-depth in our plays and in film, which has been pretty good for us. I feel like there’s also more of a winning mentality this year than we’ve had in the past 10 years. Our senior class just wants to win so much.”
“For the past couple years, it’s been kind of tough for our class, especially since we were a younger group playing varsity,” adds Hill. “We only had four seniors last year so we were just really small for our group and we were just getting hammered. This year, since we’ve all grown up and are bigger now, it’s kind of been a more even game, and a lot more fun.”
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