It's doubtful that Sherman Oaks (Calif.) Notre Dame junior quarterback Kelly Hilinski is familiar with the Dust Bowl and the mass migration from the Plains, and Oklahoma in particular, to California that it caused. However for several years now the 6-foot-5, 190-pound signal-caller has been trying to set things in reverse by making annual treks to the heartland.
The travel to Norman started when his family came to Oklahoma to do some charity work and has grown in the year since.
"We went down there my freshman year to Oklahoma - actually in Tahlequah and we took our spring break and we drove all the way down with our family, and helped build a house over there. Then we stopped by the campus and viewed the campus and sat in a meeting with coach (Josh)Heupel and coach (Bob) Stoops, we just came by, on part of our spring break," Hilinski explained.
"I was young and I definitely wasn't expected but my dad had talked to them before I came and they told me to come by. I loved the school, loved Sam Bradford and that was one of the schools I'd love to play for, my dad got in touch with one of the coaches, and told him we wanted to stop by and little did we know, coach Heupel was like that'd be great come in and sit in on the meeting, coach Stoops walked by and introduced himself, and the guy who was escorting me through campus. I thought that was really fortunate for me."
Hilinski then returned to Norman this summer for a workout at Oklahoma's camp, however his timing wasn't quite as fortunate in the second go around and he, his father, and Heupel had to make the most out of the time they were left with.
"We got a little mixed up on the time, we flew in the day before and my dad and I spent the day to ourselves, because we knew the day campers would come in and spend the next day. We thought there would be two sessions, starting at nine in the morning and going to six, and we had to go at seven. But, as it turned out, there was only one session because it was the first day of camp," Hilinski explained.
"So we came in and no one was there, and they explained it was only the half day workout and it was a later day session. I told coach I can only stay for half an hour or so. Coach Heupel still found a way to get a good workout in.
"It was weird, he wanted to get me out of my comfort zone, he had me dropping and throwing moving to my left and working my feet, he wanted to build a strong base and see how my footwork was, he says if you push yourself out of your regular comfort zone and in any situation you can compensate and make yourself comfortable. It was much more than an average workout, he pushed me even in an hour's time."
Following his trip to Oklahoma Hilinski returned home and then camped at UCLA and USC before heading up to check out Stanford later in the summer. It was a summer that followed years of work with renowned West coast quarterback guru Steve Clarkson, founder of the Air7. Working with Clarkson he has seen some of California's top prep quarterbacks in recent years go on to become elite recruits and says the early attention has been a 'dream come true'.
"They coach some of the best quarterbacks in the nation, I know Matt Barkley, Josh Nunes, and Richard Brehaut, they all started out where I am taking little bits of advice and applying it to their game. It was so weird at first, I was kind of in awe, these guys are some of the best coaches in the nation, it felt good getting better, and that's what I apply myself to every day," Hilinski explained.
"Honestly it feels like a dream come true and I know that's such a cliché' you think as a kid in seventh grade, you see Matt going off to USC and those guys going off and playing and Jimmy Clausen, I thought maybe I could do that someday and it feels like yesterday I was doubting myself and I was saying can I be good enough to be like those guys. I'm so blessed and so lucky to have my teammates and my family."
Hilinski knows that while working with Clarkson and getting some early hype was a good step toward building up his name in recruiting circles it's nothing without a strong junior season; a season that will be his first as a starter.
"Step one has to be having a successful junior year, and take home a CIF title, that comes first to me. I'd like to go out and see some games at the places I'm interested in and keep talking to coaches, evaluating my options, and have it narrowed down to two or three schools by the start of my senior year, and have another great season," he said.
"We had a senior last year, shotgun, who was a read option, more of a running system type and you've seen me I'm not the fastest guy out there, we shared some reps, but I got in a few games and this year we're moving to two-backs and two tight-ends.
"It's funny, Dayne Crist went to our school, our first two years was under center and since then it's been all shotgun, read-option, this is the first year we're going back to under center. I can't wait to go under center, play-action, step up into the pocket. We have great offensive line, a great running back, and great receivers."
As Hilinski mentioned he'd like to be down to two or three teams by the start of his senior season but so far he already has some ideas on his recruiting moving forward.
"I definitely have five or six that I would like to hear from, Oklahoma, USC, Stanford, UCLA, Notre Dame, and Alabama, but I've not really heard from Notre Dame or Alabama, I'm grateful to play at the next level," he said. "I definitely see me going to some USC, UCLA, and Stanford home games, Notre Dame is a little bit harder but coach Heupel said we'd love to have you out for a home game, and I'd love to go, man that thing's impressive."
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