Deacon Hill
Wisconsin-bound Deacon Hill, center, of Santa Barbara High is joined by his family after signing his letter of intent during a ceremony Wednesday at Peabody Stadium. From left are brother-in-law Sam Tai, sisters Sami, Abbi and Kodi, mother Cindy and father Pe’a. (Barry Punzal / Noozhawk photo)

For Santa Barbara High School quarterback Deacon Hill, drama is leading his football team down the field in the final seconds with a championship on the line.

On the day Hill signed his college National Letter of Intent, there would be no dramatic moment from the four-star recruit making his college choice. There was no selection from an assortment of ball caps on a table.

Hill already was wearing a white athletic top with the logo of his future school, and his family was attired in black and red sweatshirts and T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Wisconsin Football.”

Hill made it official Wednesday, the first day of the NCAA’s early signing period for football. He signed with the University of Wisconsin-Madison during a ceremony held at midfield at the renovated Peabody Stadium.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Hill, who gave a verbal commitment to the Badgers back in May 2019, before his junior season. He kept to his word after receiving offers from other schools, including UCLA. “Wisconsin has my heart; Madison, that’s the place I need to be.”

Even though he was set on his football and academic future, Hill had butterflies before signing the letter of intent.

“It’s exhilarating,” he said of finally becoming a Badger. “I was nervous walking down the hill (to the stadium), but it’s a great feeling knowing that I’m going to play at the next level and the next four years are set for my life. I know where I’m going, I know what I’m going to do.”

Hill is the only quarterback signee in Wisconsin’s recruiting class of 2021. The Badgers had 21 high school student athletes sign on Wednesday. The Badgers’ class was ranked No. 15 by Rivals and ESPN, and No. 16 by 247Sports as of mid-afternoon Wednesday.

Wisconsin offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said of Hill in the Wisconsin State Journal: Quarterbacks coach Jon Budmayr “identified him really early. We thought he had great arm strength, when you compared him to the best players in the country who were out there. We thought he was right there from the jump. … We really liked him, we felt personality-wise the people that surrounded him and supported him, how he worked, all those things were a great fit for us.”

Deacon Hill Highlights

In his junior season with the Dons, Hill threw for 3,102 yards and 33 touchdowns and ran for 461 yards and 13 TDs. He led them to a unbeaten Channel League title and to the CIF-SS Division 8 championship game. He drove them down field for a winning score but came up short when a Sunny Hills defensive back made a great play on the ball in the end zone.

Because of COVID-19, high school football hasn’t been played in California in 2020. The hope is for a reduced season starting in February or March.

If that happens, Hill and his teammate will finally get the opportunity to play in the renovated Peabody Stadium.

The 6-foot-4 quarterback got to enjoy being in the stadium with his family, coaches, school administrators and members of the media on Wednesday.

Hill, who is of Samoan ancestry, received hugs and Kukui nut lei necklaces from his parents, father Pe’a and mother Cindy, and sisters Sami, Kodi and Abbi, and a braided cord tribal necklace from his future brother-in-law and former UCLA football player Sam Tai, the fiancé of Sami.

“They are to celebrate our Polynesian culture,” he said of the leis.

He expressed gratitude to the people who were there to celebrate with him.

“Having everybody here and Coach (JT) Stone … Coach Stone I’ve been with since the fourth grade,” Hill said. “It’s been one long ride with him and my family. It’s a great feeling.”

Stone gave an emotional speech about his star quarterback.

He credited Cindy and Pe’a Hill for laying a foundation for all their children to become successful. Sami and Kodi played on championship water polo teams at UCLA, and Abbi is currently playing for the Bruins. Sami made the 2016 U.S. Olympic team and won a gold medal at the Olympic Games in Brazil.

“They’ve opened doors for people to embrace their kids, to work with those kids and help the kids along their way,” Stone said of the parents, who were both college athletes.

On Deacon: “I’m so proud of him beyond the football,” Stone said. “He’s been an amazing ambassador to this program and for this school. I’ve been extremely blessed.

“This kid, he’s got so much. I feel like I’m losing a son.”

Santa Barbara High’s Deacon Hill is congratulated by his family after signing his letter of intent with Wisconsin from Noozhawk on Vimeo.

Athletic Director Todd Heil said he was impressed with how Hill conducted himself off the field.

He told Hill, “Deacon, I got to get to know you a little bit in my class. And the stories are true.”

Heil added:  “He’s an incredibly humble kid, a passionate kid, a conscientious kid, someone I got to know outside the game. It was just overwhelming to see you as that kid.”

Hill said he dedicated himself to playing football at a major college program starting in the eighth grade.

“From the eighth grade, it’s been the same thing over and over again: Wake up, get your grades right and go work out. And everything shows on the field,” he said.

He admitted it’s been challenging staying the course during the pandemic.

“There have been points in this quarantine where it’s been hard. You don’t have a season, you don’t know what you’re working for. But you just got to drive through it,” Hill said.

He noted a piece of advice that quarterback coach and Santa Barbara High passing record-holder John Uribe shared with him.

“One thing coach Uribe told me that’s stuck with me from Day 1: ‘Make your life hard now so it is easier later,’ Hill said. “If you make your life really hard now, you’ll get to the next level.

“And I continue to make my life hard so I can continue in this sport.”

Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Barry Punzal, Noozhawk Sports Editor

— Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.