Dakota Hill was no ray of sunshine about becoming the Don of a New Age.
The Calabasas High freshman, quarterback of the school’s powerhouse junior varsity football team, had to become the new kid on the block when his family moved to Santa Barbara more than two years ago.
“It was a pretty hard transition because it wasn’t just a new school for me, it was a whole new area,” Hill said. “I didn’t know anybody at all.”
Three football seasons later, he’s become so entrenched in the football family at Santa Barbara High that he often pretends to be the brother of Dons’ quarterback Deacon Hill.
“We’ll watch the highlights on TV and they’ll always say, ‘Oh Deacon Hill and Dakota Hill are not related,’” he said. “We’ll tell people, ‘What do you mean? … He is my brother … We are related.’”
Dakota, Deacon Hill’s backup at quarterback, has yet to call signals this season. Coach J.T. Stone, however, has used him just about everywhere else the last three seasons: slot receiver, cornerback, and kick returner.
“Dakota has put a lot of football miles in for me since the day he landed here,” Stone said during Monday’s Athletic Round Table press luncheon at Harry’s Plaza Cafe. “We wouldn’t be where we’re at without him.”
The Dons, 8-2 overall, have been seeded No. 2 for the CIF-Southern Section’s Division 8 playoffs. They capped an undefeated Channel League season on Friday by defeating cross-town rival Dos Pueblos, 31-13.
“Our team is super-hyped up and we want to get a ring this year,” Hill said. “That’s what everybody is thinking about. We’re going to do everything in our power to get that ring.”
Santa Barbara, which by tradition changes its nickname to Golden Tornado for the postseason, will open the playoffs on Friday against Gahr. Kickoff at San Marcos High’s Warkentin Family Stadium will be at 7:30 p.m.
Dakota Hill has been one of the Dons’ leading receivers as well as a top defensive back for all three of his varsity seasons. He earned the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table’s Male Athlete of the Week after intercepting two of DP’s passes last week, including one in the end zone to foil a scoring opportunity for the Chargers.
“I do get exhausted out there, but you just push through,” he said. “Every single time you go off the field, you have to get water before you go back out.”
Football helped him adjust when his parents, Happy and Kristina Hill, moved to Santa Barbara before the 2017 season.
“I was able to make friends through football, and the people here at Santa Barbara helped me fit in,” Dakota said. “The quarterback at the time, Frankie Gamberdella, really helped me a lot, and so did Phil Luce and Natani Drati.
“Deacon helped me, too.”
He’s developed such a close bond with the Dons’ other wide receivers — Jackson Gonzales, Moki Nacario, and Jake Knecht — that they like to call themselves “The Jurbs.”
“It’s short for the ‘John Uribes,’” Hill explained. “He was our wide receiver and quarterback coach last year.
“We’re all like best friends … It’s like a brotherhood.”
Uribe, the Dons’ record-setting quarterback a decade ago, continued on to play football in college as well as in Europe.
“He sends us text messages before every game, wishing us good luck and telling us how to beat our opponents,” Hill said.
Hill brought a fiery spirit with him from Calabasas, which has one of the top high school football programs in Southern California.
“Over there, it’s just, ‘Compete, compete, compete,’” he said.
There have been times he’s pushed his teammates too far, Stone said.
“He loves to compete at a high level to the point where sometimes I have to get him under control,” he explained. “But that is something that we needed in our program … We needed him to give that to the other kids.
“A lot of kids have fed off that. His ability to compete in practice and challenge everybody, every day, has been a big part in our success this year.”
And Hill has found ways to fit in with Santa Barbara’s laid-back lifestyle.
“I’ve learned to adapt and change, and now I’m living my best life,” he said. “I even go fishing off the pier on the weekends.”
LUNCHEON NOTES: Another Don who’s made important adjustments is offensive right guard Nick Faisan. Stone talked to him after the defeat to St. Bonaventure, and Santa Barbara hasn’t lost since.
“Nick has just played exceptional after that,” Stone said. “He took it upon himself to own it, and to get better, and he’s gotten better in practice every single day.
“He was able to change his practice habits to get better at his craft and he has been exceptional in the last four or five games.”
Dos Pueblos finished third in the Channel League, earning a playoff berth in Division 6. The Chargers will play their first-round game on Friday at Crespi High.
“We were a senior-heavy team, but oddly enough without a lot of experience,” assistant coach Herb Welch said. “We’ve been learning as we’ve been going and I’m really proud that we’ve gotten better each and every week.”
Two seniors to emerge for DP, he added, are outside linebacker Alex Castanon and cornerback Carlos Santiago.
“They both had really exceptional games this past week and combined on some really key tackles there in the first half,” Welch said, noting that the Chargers trailed just 14-7 at halftime.
Both players also had pass interceptions, with Castanon returning his for a touchdown. Santiago’s 55-yard punt also helped keep the Dons at bay for a while.
“I was really proud with the way our guys competed,” Welch said.