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Hill enjoying ‘ride’ as head coach

Jake Hill is living a dream.

The former Oxford assistant is in his first year as a head high school football coach at New Albany. The Bulldogs aren’t winning as much as Hill would like with New Albany entering the final week of the regular season with a sub-.500 record, but growing up in a football family, Hill is a firm believer his experience will make winning big just a matter of time.

For now, he’s doing what he can with what he’s got and soaking up every opportunity to learn in his inaugural season as the boss of his own program.

“This is a dream for me to be a head coach,” Hill said. “I didn’t really care if it was 1A or a private school or whatever. I want to take kids and try to teach them and mold them into young men and have fun on Friday nights.”

That experience, which included time as an assistant at Northeast Mississippi Community College, Louisville and Oxford, where he was most recently on the staff of his father, head coach Johnny Hill, came in handy when New Albany was searching for a new coach last December. The Bulldogs had fallen on hard times, winning just five games the previous two seasons, including a 1-10 showing a season ago.

Hill, 36 at the time he was hired, took over for Ron Price after serving as defensive backs coach and co-defensive coordinator for the Chargers, and he’s at least helped the Bulldogs get back to respectability. New Albany (4-6) has nearly matched that two-year win total this season and can even earn a berth in the MHSAA Class 4A playoffs if the Bulldogs can beat Ripley tonight.

Going from a program like Oxford where the talent and tradition make championship expectations the norm to a school that was struggling to be competitive took some getting used to for Hill, who used most of the offseason trying to build a fragile team back up.

“There was just a lack of competition, so really the whole spring that’s all we really did was just compete against each other,” Hill said. “I think the kids really liked it, and they’ve been responding to it well. I hate to use the term rebuilding because I’ve never played in a game and I will never coach in a game that I don’t think I can win. … It’s hard to take a loss, but I do think we’re on the right track and we’re headed in the right direction.”

Fatherly advice
And if he ever needs some veteran advice, it’s not too far away.

Hill and his family still live in Oxford, right next to his father. There’s not much down time for either this time of year, but the younger Hill normally uses the 40 or so minutes it takes to drive back to Oxford after his team’s game each Friday night to chat over the phone with his dad, who usually knows by that time how the Bulldogs did since “that’s the first thing I check when we come in off the field,” the elder Hill said.

But the talk is usually limited to what’s happening on the field. Even for Johnny, who’s in his 40th and final season as a coach, it’s difficult to explain just how much time and commitment it takes to keep up with the extra responsibility off of it to a son that’s still getting his feet wet.

“We will have that conversation, but the only way to learn to do that is to do it,” Johnny said. “You can’t take a class for it and you can’t write a checklist. I guess you could, but you have to experience it and learn from the experience and learn from your screw-ups, too, now.

“The things you have to do from painting the fields to washing clothes to fixing this and doing this, planning and preparing, it’s a crazy life.”

It’s one Jake is still working to understand and starting to embrace.

“There’s things that go into being the head guy that you never really think about as an assistant, but again, the good thing of being around my dad so much, pretty much all of this I’ve seen him go through and overcome,” Jake said. “It’s been a blessing. The community, administration, just everybody involved. Our kids are awesome kids. I’m thrilled to death to get this opportunity, and it’s been a good ride.”