Looking onto the Florida Tech Panther Stadium field, fans seated on the stands would never have suspected that the football game they were watching was Drake Hillman’s first.
Before kicking an American football, Hillman was kicking the international football on Florida Tech’s men’s soccer team. Over his soccer career, Hillman scored 21 goals playing forward.
In the season opener against Newberry on Sep. 5, Hillman kicked the opening kickoff and three points at touchdown. He also missed a 51-yard field goal attempt off the left upright in the closing seconds of the game.
“I knew there were two seconds left, but didn’t know the rules,” Hillman said. “I thought as I was running up, I better hurry up and make this kick. I found out afterwards that wasn’t actually the rule, that really didn’t affect anything, I think.”
“To put his leg into a 51-yarder off the left upright was very encouraging,” Steve Englehart, head football Coach at Florida Tech said. “I told him that kick there is going to help us win games later on down the road.”
After his four years of NCAA eligibility in soccer, Hillman was set to return this year as an assistant coach for the men’s soccer team. After a few of his former teammates had Chipotle with the wide receiver coach, Austin Silvoy, Hillman’s name came up as possibility at kicker position in need for some depth.
The position was rather thin after the death of Alex Brack in a car accident last year and Brion Ashley’s departure for personal reasons.
“His upside is still up there, [Hillman] has done a great job,” Englehart said. “He had a couple weeks in spring practice where he was kicking and used to it, and he is natural. He got a strong leg, and he has been kicking a ball his whole life except it was round and now it’s oblong.”
Hillman said the transition was tough, but after staying in Florida this summer to work on the sport, he’s feeling more comfortable with the change in form.
Hillman said he’s been adjusting to the difference in kicking the two balls.
“The weight,” Hillman said, “and you lean a lot more to the left when kicking a soccer ball, as well as the follow through. In football, you tend to bring your leg straight through.”
Englehart said he believes that with Hillman as well as freshman Kyle Gullikson, the kicking game will be stronger this season compared to the last few.
“The kicking game as whole, from a production standpoint, you see the potential there with some really good kickers and punters,” Englehart said. “For the first time ever, we were kicking the ball down to the one, two-yard line on kickoffs and almost hitting a 51-yarder at the end to win the game. Our punting was really good too.”