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Hill named male athlete of the year

North Little Rock's K.J. Hill. Photo by Jaison Sterling
North Little Rock's K.J. Hill. Photo by Jaison Sterling
North Little Rock's K.J. Hill. Photo by Jaison Sterling
North Little Rock's K.J. Hill. Photo by Jaison Sterling

North Little Rock’s K.J. Hill was honored Saturday as the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s All-Arkansas Preps Male Athlete of the Year.

Hill, a 6-1, 195-pound standout in football and basketball for the Charging Wildcats, was the star of a night of stars. The newspaper’s staff chose outstanding male and female athletes in basketball, track and field, football, tennis, baseball, softball, volleyball, golf and soccer as well as coaches in each sport. Each was eligible for the overall award.

“I was very surprised,” said Hill, who was the nominee from football. “As a junior, I didn’t think I was going to get it.”

Springdale Har-Ber’s Payton Stumbaugh, honored for girls track, was named the All-Arkansas Preps Female Athlete of the Year.

The awards were announced at a banquet featuring New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Hill said he enjoyed visiting with him.

“I was excited,” he said. “We had a bond — he’s a quarterback and I’m a receiver; he was giving me insight on what they’re all going to be doing.”

Hill, a top college prospect in both football and basketball, played wide receiver for the Charging Wildcats, leading them to the Class 7A state semifinals, and guard for the basketball team, which won the state championship.

In football, he caught 63 passes for 1,143 yards and 16 touchdowns, rushed 17 times for 121 yards and two scores, returned 26 punts for 502 yards and one TD and six kickoffs for 194 yards and one score.

“He’s so fluid and smooth, he makes everything look so easy,” said Robert Yates, formerly the high school football beat reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

In basketball, Hill averaged 15 points. 2.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.6 steals per game.

He said among the highlights of his junior year was the punt return for a score.

A 3.0 student, he said he was taking advantage of the summer to prepare for his senior season.

“When school’s out, I have a lot more time on my hands and get to work out more and work on my craft,” he said.

North Little Rock coach Brad Bolding said while he didn’t like to compare athletes he’s coached over his nearly 20-year career, there was something special about Hill.

“There aren’t many who have the mindset of the way he’s thinking right now,” Bolding said. “He thinks like an NFL player’s thinking — how can I better myself, what can I do to make myself better? That’s pretty much how he thinks when he wakes up every day, and that typically doesn’t happen for kids in high school or even college. His maturity goes hand-in-hand with that.”

In addition to Hill in football and Stumbaugh in girls track, athletes honored included Kevaughn Allen of North Little Rock for boys basketball; Jordan Danberry, Conway, girls basketball; Brandon Workman, Rogers, boys track; Jake Jacoby, Pulaski Academy, boys tennis; Emily Metcalf, Valley View, girls tennis; Trevor Ezell, Bryant, baseball; Andrea Kindrick, Russellville, softball; Drew Jones, Fort Smith Southside, volleyball; Olivia Loiacano, Jonesboro, girls golf; Luke Long, Fayetteville, boys golf; Amber Ellis, Gentry, girls soccer; and Eric Bentley, Central Arkansas Christian, boys soccer.

Anthony Cantrell of North Little Rock was the outstanding softball coach of the year. Johnecia Howard, girls basketball coach at eStem, was named the All-Arkansas Preps Coach of the Year.

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