When the lights have been the brightest, Dakota Hill has been at his best.
The senior defensive back and wide receiver has played a key role for the Golden Tornado this postseason. His ball-hawking ability in the defensive backfield has translated to offense – as Hill has recorded two touchdown receptions in all three playoff games on Santa Barbara’s historic run to the CIF-SS Division 8 championship game Saturday night against Sunny Hill.
“I feel like I’ve really stepped up for the playoffs,” Hill told the News-Press. “And I’m not done yet.”
Hill transferred from Calabasas as a sophomore and said his decision had a lot to do with what the future of the program would look like by the time he was a senior.
“When I first game here, I saw Deacon (Hill), Jake (Knecht), Moki (Nacario), and Jackson (Gonzales) and I knew there was room for growth,” Hill said. “I just figured I could help with my talents and all the training I’ve done since I was a little kid. I knew I could help offensively and defensively.”
His talents have certainly been put to good use. Hill had 26 receptions for 403 yards and four touchdowns in the regular season. Through three games in the playoffs, Hill has 12 catches for 300 yards and six touchdowns.
He had only six catches in the team’s first four games, something he said was extremely frustrating to deal with.
“Coming into my senior year, I really wanted to make a huge impact,” said Hill, who on Tuesday celebrated his 18th birthday. “Not being able to help out on offense… that’s something I wasn’t okay with.”
His head coach appears to have agreed. J.T. Stone and his offensive staff went back to the drawing board midway through the year and moved Hill from the backside receiver position to the slot on the strong side. The move put him in the line of vision of quarterback Deacon Hill and was aimed at getting Dakota more involved in the offense.
“He’s a playmaker and I wanted to get him the ball,” Stone said. “It’s just worked out tremendously for us.”
Deacon and Dakota, who often joke about being related, have developed a great chemistry that has been on display throughout the historic postseason run. With the game on the line against Palm Desert in the quarterfinals, Deacon and Dakota hooked up for a 24-yard touchdown on a 4th and 11 play when his team holding just a three-point lead with just over one minute remaining.
“We’ve known what he could do the whole year and it’s really just come to now that people are paying more attention to Jackson and Jake and that’s opening him up,” Deacon said. “He’s having a heck of a playoff run.
“That connection has been there all season.”
Dakota said the turning point for him came Oct. 11 when the team traveled to Santa Ynez. He caught his first touchdown since the season opener and proceeded to celebrate by taking off his helmet and running up the Santa Barbara sideline.
“I was just so happy to get back in the end zone,” he said. “It had been a while.”
While his offensive production has been off the charts during the playoffs, Dakota said he still considers himself a defensive back.
“That’s the position I’ve been playing the longest,” he explained. “Ever since I started playing when I was 6, I’ve always been a DB.
“I still approach is the same,” he said. “When I’m on defense and that ball is in the air, I turn into the wide receiver.”
Hill pulled down four interceptions in Santa Barbara’s 31-13 victory over Dos Pueblos to close out the regular season.
Growing up, Hill said he realized his potential while in middle school. As an eighth grader, he was playing with a quarterback who is now a Cal commit and a pair of wide receivers who have gotten scholarship offers from Pac-12 schools.
“I realized I could keep up with those guys,” he said. “We competed against each other at practice and I knew I could hang. I was just as fast, if not faster, and I could catch it just as good as those guys.”
Despite having Tuesday’s practice cancelled due to air quality issues from the Cave Fire raging in the Los Padres National Forest, Hill and several of his teammates were still running routes and rehearsing for Saturday’s showdown against Sunny Hills, scheduled for 7 p.m. at San Marcos High’s Warkentin Stadium.