Hilson, Cardinals eye history in 2017

by Mark Oliver

Last year, Haskell Harmony Grove relished the opportunity to make school history. Together, quarterback Hunter Hilson and the Cardinals led the team to its first playoff victory in school history.

“Winning our first ever playoff game has been my favorite football memory over the past nine years,” Hilson said. “It was such a great moment with my teammates, and it felt great to be the team to finally get it done.”

Hilson was selected to this year’s 501 Football Team — 25 players representing all 11 counties of the 501. The team, which boasts the best the 501 has to offer both on and off the field, is sponsored by Conway Ortho and Sports Medicine, Conway Regional Health System and First Security Bank. Hilson was nominated by his head coach, Paul Calley.

“Hunter is the equivalent of having a coach on the field,” Calley wrote in his nomination. “He is super smart, a great leader, tough, competitive, unselfish and extremely accurate. He’s a high-character kid that excels in the classroom, leads by example and limits distractions.”

With the pressure of a playoff victory off the team’s back, Hilson believes the Cardinals can soar to new heights in his final season.

“Although we lost a lot of key players last season, we are confident in the players who have stepped up this year, and we think we’re going to have a great year,” Hilson said. “Coach Calley believes in us and thinks that we can go even farther than last year. I’ve put in so much work over my football career, but no matter what happens, the main thing I want to accomplish this season is to be a good leader for my team and win a lot of games.”

Hilson — who maintains a 4.0 GPA — leads from the classroom as well.  

“As our quarterback, it’s important for me to set a good example for my team,” Hilson said. “I’m not only dedicated on the field, but in the classroom as well. It’s not always easy — no one wants to come home after practice and study and do homework, but it’s important to push yourself to be the best you can be. My mom, Melissa Hilson, is the reason for that. She’s a teacher and always pushed me to make good grades.”

Haskell Harmony Grove opens its eighth season against cross-county rival Bauxite.

“Bauxite is always an exciting game for us,” Hilson said. “Both communities come out, and it’s a great rivalry. Both programs are getting stronger every year.”

Off the field, Hilson is a member of National Honor Society and Future Business Leaders of America and plays third base and pitcher for Cardinals baseball. In his free time, the senior enjoys deer hunting with his family and giving back to the community he calls home.

“When I was younger, my dad, Clint Hilson, was always there for me, showing me how to play sports,” Hilson said. “That’s one of the biggest reasons that I volunteer at our school’s football camp for younger kids. I want to help grow the next quarterbacks of the Haskell Harmony Grove Cardinals.”

“As a coach, you won’t get many opportunities to coach a player like Hunter,” Calley wrote. “He exhibits all the characteristics of a great student and is always willing to help others. He has all the intangibles to excel on the field and the true desire to succeed in life.”

Haskell Harmony Grove opens the season at Bauxite at 7 p.m. Friday in the Saline River Shootout.