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Desert Pines football coach connects student-athletes with colleges

Updated February 4, 2020 - 6:58 pm

Desert Pines guidance counselor Sean Abid still loves to tell the story. Former Jaguars running back David Hill, then a fullback at the University of Arizona, would gather football gloves after his team’s games and mail them to Desert Pines.

“Who does that?” Abid asked rhetorically. “He was a 21- or 22-year-old kid, and he wanted to make sure kids at his alma mater had gloves.”

Perhaps it was a little foreshadowing. Because now, as a 30-year-old assistant football coach and teacher, Hill wants to make sure kids at his alma mater get scholarships.

He has developed one of the most comprehensive recruiting networks in the Las Vegas Valley and helps student-athletes earn athletic scholarships through relationships with seemingly every Division I program in the country.

Desert Pines will honor eight football players on Wednesday, national signing day. But Hill’s influence extends well beyond the confines of the school’s campus on the east side of Las Vegas.

He’ll advocate for players at any school, so long as he sees a commitment to their craft.

“It never felt like he was obligated to do this. It feels like it’s truly from the heart,” said Bishop Gorman wide receiver and Washington recruit Rome Odunze, the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year. “Everybody loves Coach Hill. … He’s trying to get athletes with true talent (scholarship) offers.”

Getting started

Hill says he always knew he’d work in education.

That is, if he didn’t play in the NFL.

He was born to a single, 14-year-old mother in Las Vegas. His father was shot to death some two years later. He learned from his mother during his elementary years that a college education could help him escape poverty. He learned just before high school that football could help him acquire a college education.

“I grinded. I always bet on me. I always put in the work. I was never scared to fail,” Hill said. “That was the only way to make it.”

Hill played four years for the Jaguars and signed in 2007 with the University of Mary, a Division II school in Bismarck, North Dakota. He lasted all of three months before the cold Midwestern weather drove him back to Las Vegas, where he worked odd jobs for nine months.

He enrolled the following fall, though, at Los Angeles Pierce College and emerged as the No. 1 junior college fullback in the country. He bypassed offers to play at schools like Syracuse and Arizona State in favor of Arizona, where he studied history and played football for two years — first as a walk-on and then as a scholarship player.

Professional opportunities presented themselves after he graduated in 2012, but he was at peace with the conclusion of his career and returned to Las Vegas to work in education.

“I came here with a mission,” Hill said. “I knew I was more than a football player. … I wanted to be somebody that gave back to my community, gave back to the culture. I wanted to be a part of people’s dreams, and let them know that it’s reality.”

Giving back

Hill works at Desert Pines through Nevada’s Jobs for America’s Graduates program, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing dropouts. He assumed a role coaching running backs on the school’s staff in 2012 and sought to connect his players with college opportunities of their own.

He developed connections through his playing career, but the rest of Hill’s recruiting network was born through the force of sheer will, passion and personal charisma. Hill started taking players on recruiting trips in seven-passenger vans to colleges up and down the West Coast. Sometimes they’d attend camps. Sometimes they’d just visit the campus.

But every time, he would be sure to connect with somebody on the football staff.

Hill said he pays expenses incurred on recruiting trips for the Desert Pines athletes. Those from other valley schools pay their own way.

His Rolodex through the years has been filled with contacts across college football. West Coast road trips turned into cross-country road trips, with Desert Pines standouts Darnell Washington and Gabriel Lopez among those touring the country in search of the optimal fit for their future.

“He opens so many doors,” said Lopez, a Washington State pledge who referred to Hill as his big brother. “For traveling. For meeting new people. For going outside of our state.”

Players around the Las Vegas Valley reach out to Hill on a regular basis, optimistic that he knows somebody in need of their services. His students at Desert Pines who don’t play football are equally inspired by Hill’s drive.

“I wasn’t actually thinking of going to college when I got here,” said Jose Sanchez, a student of Hill’s who emigrated from Mexico two years ago.

Hill changed that.

He teaches life-skills classes during the school day and boosts morale by bringing food on Thanksgiving, or cupcakes for the classroom to celebrate his students on their birthdays.

He’ll celebrate national signing day, too, culminating years of advocacy. His players will go on to college in the fall. He’ll get back to work the next day, seeking scholarship opportunities for the next football player or student.

“Any student that comes his way that’s in need, he’s about as good as you can get. It goes beyond athletics,” Desert Pines principal Isaac Stein said. “You cannot put a value on that. And it’s nonstop. The day never ends for him.”

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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