In an ideal world, everything goes right for a senior high school football player.
A class peaks at leaders, a team plays its best and the group gets sent out on the most successful note.
South Carolina quarterback commit Ryan Hilinski isn’t getting that fairy tail.
He’s getting adversity. He’s getting the lessons learned through playing through difficulty, some that might be valuable as the Gamecocks fan base is also dealing with some scuffles from its team.
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And he’s enjoying it all the same.
“You’ve got to be a leader in these situations,” Hilinski said. “When we’re losing with four minutes left, you just look at your offensive line, with two sophomores and a freshman that are starting on varsity, you say, ‘Hey guys, give me at least 2 1/2 seconds. I promise you we’ll win this game.’ And then you go out there and do it. It’s pretty cool to see all this hard work ... seeing when it comes down to the wire, that all these guys look you in the eye and say, ‘That’s my quarterback. He’s going to lead us to a win.’ ”
Hilinski’s five-star wide receiver is done for the year. He has 16 teammates sidelined either by season-ending injuries or hand foot and mouth disease. The offensive line he expected to start the season with? Only one starter from that group remains.
And yet his team is getting along.
He’s thrown for 1,871 yards and 23 touchdowns, including 261 and three scores against St. John Bosco on Friday. That group is the No. 2-ranked team in the country, and Hilinski’s Orange Lutheran squad was down only 28-21 at halftime before the loaded Braves pulled away.
For the season, Hilinski is a little off last year’s pace, but he’s doing well considering the challenges around him and the upgrade in schedule.
Hilinski’s Lancers had already faced California powerhouses Centennial and Mission Viejo. Centennial is No. 10 in the country in the latest national Top-25, while Mission Viejo is 8-0 and was No. 25 last week.
Overall his team is 4-3. They had a late drive and a chance to win on a field goal against Mission Viejo (and missed from 30 yards), and a week later topped Santa Margarita with a last-second kick.
What stands out as Hilinski talks is an undercurrent of perpetual optimism. He’s about to join a team that has had its run of emotional ups and downs this year, with two disheartening losses, plus a quarterback change and wild game last week.
The outlook might serve him well in the rough-and-tumble world of SEC football. Hilinski was going over the array of injuries that struck his offensive line, and even then turned attention to the resilience that brought out of his team.
“Had a broken fibula,” Hilinski said. “We had a broken ankle. We had a concussion. We had a neck strain. Like all of these things that have happened to us throughout the season, it’s just been crazy to see how awesome it’s been for us to bounce back with the personnel that we’ve got.”
Hilinski, who has known true personal struggle with his brother’s death, will enroll at South Carolina ahead of the spring, bringing his family across the country with him.
In the shorter term, his banged-up team won’t have things much easier, even after facing one of the two best teams in the country. This week, they get a 6-1 JSerra Catholic team ranked among the best in California, then a solid Servite squad.
Hilinski will finish the season against Mater Dei, the top team in the country, one that knocked off Florida powerhouse IMG Academy.
Facing down all this with a worn-down squad, he’s simply undeterred.
“It’s just life, you know?” Hilinski said. “Sometimes you’ve just got to jump over fences that are blocking your way, and that’s just the crazy thing. Life’s going to throw stuff at you that you’re not ready for or expecting it. But you can’t just sit at home and sulk and say, ‘Oh, no. Poor me.’ ”