No shortage of greatness at Hillside

May. 18, 2014 @ 09:33 PM

Shabazz Napier claimed he was starving up there at the University of Connecticut.

Napier, the 2014 NCAA Final Four most outstanding player, should have come and hollered at North Carolina football coach Larry Fedora, because Tar Heels running back Khris Francis is not going to bed hungry.

Francis showed up at Hillside the other day with a shirt full of muscles.

Vad Lee told me in no uncertain terms that he’s been eating well. He was at Hillside, too, looking all thick.

Most of Lee’s bulk came from his time at Georgia Tech. He’s at James Madison now, and one of Hillside’s football players asked him why he transferred.

Lee, a quarterback, said he wanted to play in an offense that showcased his total game, not just his legs.

A short time later, Lee was on Hillside’s football field tossing touchdown passes.

And there was Geovonie Irvine, getting free and hauling in a catch the way he did after creating seams and separation as a wide receiver at N.C. Central.

Hillside left tackle Emanuel McGirt didn’t know what in the world happened when Ohio State defensive end Jamal Marcus rushed him.

No doubt about it, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer is making sure Marcus gets plenty to eat.

After Marcus manhandled McGirt, he pulled the younger fellow to the side and explained what he’d just done to him and taught him how to keep that from happening when he straps it up for Hillside in the coming weeks.

That sort of mentoring is why Irvine and Lee and what seemed like a whole hive of former Hornets returned to the school earlier this month, when Division I player after Division I player kept streaming into a classroom by the school’s gym: Korrin Wiggins from Clemson. Kalen McCain from N.C. State. Former Duke wide receiver Desmond Scott. Former Penn State captain Quinn Barham. They just kept coming through the door.

The alums schooled the current Hillside guys on what college football is all about. Former Hillside players from the Division II ranks talked about how the competition still is real strong on that level.

All of it offered a glimpse of why Hillside coach Antonio King has something special going on over there. It’s not like every boy who shows up at Hillside is ready to start fielding offers for football scholarships upon arrival. There’s a good bit of development that has to take place, from both physical and Xs and Os perspectives to — and this is equally important — some necessary character grooming.

King wanted the current players to understand exactly who they were listening to when Barham was speaking. Barham was one of four Penn State captains when the 2011 Nittany Lions were dealing with all of that mess caused by convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky.

In other words, Barham is a leader and is the type of dude whose contact information needs to be in the mobile devices of players on Hillside’s football team. In fact, all of the alums who came back to campus to pour wisdom are just a text message away from delivering advice on how to become NCAA eligible — how to stay NCAA eligible. King, quite frankly, has left his players without excuse in that regard.

Hillside athletics director Bob Hill was sitting in the back of the classroom taking it all in. You could tell he knows he has a good thing going at Hillside.

Tell  me what other high school football program around here could have sent as many current and former Division I players to Hillside’s football field for what was touted as the second annual alumni workout, an opportunity for old Hornets to teach young ones how to sting.

College coaches were hanging around Russell Blunt Stadium. Fans were in the stands. Something was cooking on the grill.

It felt like a spring football game on a college campus — well, naw, because this had more of a family feel; it was like some cousins playing ball at a back-yard cookout.

Hillside’s Marcus Bowling said he views Wiggins as an older brother, since they were high school contemporaries. Bowling said he sees Hillside senior Trevion Thompson the same way.

Thompson, a wide receiver, will join Wiggins, a defensive back, at Clemson.

Bowling’s really a basketball player. He hoops for Hillside. But he said the buzz around King’s program has him giving high school football a try. Bowling said you should look for him split out at wide receiver under the Friday night lights this fall.

“It does have a major effect,” Bowling said about the presence of the Hillside alums.

Alums further removed from the program such as Lee and Navy defensive back Myer Krah — that guy’s hung out with President Barack Obama — have more of an iconic status at Hillside, Bowling said.  Lee and Krah were on Hillside’s undefeated 2010 team that won the state title.

The lineage on display that day at Hillside was like UNC quarterback Marquise Williams sitting in Kenan Stadium appreciating that he played with a great one in Eric Ebron, a first-round pick of the Detroit Lions the other night. But then Julius Peppers shows up. And then Lawrence Taylor walks onto the field.

The Hillside alums raised at least $1,000 in scholarship money and awarded it to Hillside’s DeAndre Harper, who’s headed to Winston-Salem State to study, not play football. Which is just fine — Harper hanging up his cleats — with both the caretakers and the craftsman of Hillside football.

“We’re trying to build something here,” King said.

Hillside has won the 4-A PAC-6 title every year since winning the 2010 state championship, but the old Hornets spoke from the heart when telling current players that the football program doesn’t have the same passion that existed when they won it all.

There sure was quite a stir in the Hornets nest during that workout, though.

Herald-Sun sports writer John McCann on Twitter is @johntmccann. Email him at