Before he was a Florida Gator, a Duke Blue Devil, an Elon Phoenix, a Pittsburgh Panther or a Miami Hurricane, Aubrey Hill was a Carol City Chief.
After 16 seasons as a college coach, Hill, 41, was back on the football field Monday dressed in Chiefs colors again — a return to his high school alma mater and a fresh start all wrapped up into one.
“When any person has ups and downs, trials and tribulations, you either are going to show your true character or you’re going to fold,” said Hill, who stepped down as the receivers coach at the University of Florida a little more than one year ago — a few months before it was learned he and a handful of other former Hurricanes former assistants were facing unethical conduct charges in the now infamous UM-Nevin Shapiro investigation.
“I’ve always been a guy that’s going to give his best, work as hard as he can and pour my heart into young men,” Hill said. “There is so much on my plate now. All I want to do is talk about Carol City football. You learn from the past and move forward.”
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Sometime soon — maybe this week or next — the NCAA figures to announce its ruling on Hill and others tied to the UM scandal. Those such as Hill facing unethical conduct charges could be put on probation and not allowed to coach at the collegiate level for years. But Carol City athletic director Harold Barnwell, whom Hill replaced as football coach, said the ruling won’t impact Hill’s future at Carol City.
Barnwell said the school did its research on the situation, speaking to the NCAA, the Florida High School Athletic Association, the Greater Miami Athletic Conference and even detectives and lawyers before hiring Hill at the end of May among a group of eight other candidates.
“We did extensive research on the matter,” Barnwell said Monday. “I don’t know what the outcome of the NCAA investigation is going to be, but my thing is we’ve all done things that we aren’t proud of. I’m not saying Aubrey did anything that was detrimental, but we’ve all made mistakes. I didn’t mind giving him an opportunity to come back. That’s what most of us want. Sometimes a first [opportunity], sometimes a second.”
Hill’s hiring wasn’t popular at first. Barnwell said a few parents were concerned. But Barnwell said he trusts Hill, whom he played with at Carol City and with whom he maintained a friendship through the years.
“He’s a genuine person. What you see is what you get in Aubrey Hill,” Barnwell said. “He’s passionate about his job, his school. He’s a super individual, real kind-hearted. Once the NCAA thing is over that will be a burden off him, and he can say, ‘That’s behind me, let’s move on.’ ”
Said Hill: “With anything you deal with, it really comes down to the people who really know you. The athletic director here knows me. I’ve got 95 kids in here, and I think these kids really know me. All I try to be is the best Aubrey Hill I can be every day.”
Hill, who kept most of Carol City’s staff intact from last year’s 7-3 team, won’t be calling offensive plays despite his background at the collegiate level. But Hill said he will collaborate with offensive coordinator Jacquay Nunnally each week in formulating the game plan.
The Chiefs, who are in District 16-6A alongside defending state champion Miami Central, Miami Northwestern, Miami Norland and Homestead, bring back five starters on offense and seven on defense. The team’s best player — quarterback Trayone Gray — is a University of Miami commitment. Cornerback Tyree Johnson (5-8, 165) is headed to FIU.
Although Hill hasn’t been around very long, he’s already making an impression on his players.
“When I heard about Coach Hill, all I knew was he was a college coach and he was probably going to be very hard on us,” senior strong safety Quinzelle Bell said. “But he’s a very charismatic guy, very optimistic, has a good attitude. He pushes us to be where we feel like we have great potential.”
Co-defensive coordinator Andre Stafford, a longtime Carol City assistant, said “nobody really cares about Hill’s past.”
“We know we’ve got a good coach, definitely a coach who has ties with colleges,” Stafford said. “He wants the offense to be explosive and the defense to be dominant. We want to win.”