Jackson Gonzales
Jackson Gonzales, returning a screen pass for a touchdown in last year’s win over Dos Pueblos, will be one of Deacon Hill’s main targets this season. (Noozhawk file photo)

J.T. Stone has been fortunate to coach some standout quarterbacks in his first four years at Santa Barbara High.

First he had Brent Peus, followed by Frankie Gamberdella. Both made Dons football fun and exciting.

Now comes rifle-armed Deacon Hill, who is ready to shred defenses and light up the scoreboard.

Hill brings a wealth of athletic ability, smarts and size to the position. The 6-4, 225-pound junior was so impressive at college prospect camps that Wisconsin, Kansas State and Nevada made him offers. After taking an unofficial visit to Wisconsin, Hill verbally committed to the Badgers in late June.

“He was primed for this,” Stone told Noozhawk. “Deacon has been taught. I’ve been with him for a long time and he understands the game of football, understands it from a quarterback’s perspective. He’s a master of his craft.”

Hill, who grew up playing water polo and also plays basketball, has a powerful arm and can run over people.

“We’re getting a different type of quarterback at the helm,” Stone said. “Just the fact he puts in the work and really tries to understand the offense, it’s going to put us in very good positions to win.”

Hill said one of his biggest areas of improvement is his foot speed “and my ability to make plays with my feet.”

He learned a lot from the camps and from the experience of starting last year’s CIF playoff game against a fast and athletic Culver City squad.

“It’s going to help with game speed and the experience of just getting under center,” Hill said.

Deacon Hill on read option

Santa Barbara quarterback Deacon Hill works on a read-option play. Hill says he’s improved his foot speed since last season. (Barry Punzal / Noozhawk photo)

He also gained valuable pointers from college coaches at the prospect camps.

“The college coaches helped with my mechanics, my arm strength, things like that,” he said. “And just competing against the other kids really showed me how hard I need to work.”

Hill will have plenty of familiar faces to throw to this season. Dakota Hill (no relation), Jackson Gonzales, Jake Knecht, Moki Nacario and Anthony Loza are all returning receivers.

“We got guys and we got some great youngsters coming into the program,” Stone said. “We have some talented sophomores. I’m super excited about our youth and the future of the program.”

Hill is excited about his receiving corps.

“I have great chemistry with all of them — we’re all best friends,” he said. “I’m really excited to see how the season goes, especially because we’ve been training all this off-season and putting in the work.”

How about a running game?

Dakota Hill

Dakota Hill is a sure-handed wide receiver and a solid defensive back. (Noozhawk file photo)

The Dons return all-league player Justin Perez along with Ty Montgomery. Sophomores Anthony Lopez and Robert Boyton also will carry the ball.

“We’re going to be OK, we’re going to be all right,” Stone said.

“I’m confident in this offense,” Hill added. “The line has a different attitude than it’s had before. They’re ready to go hit somebody, they’re ready to make their blocks. I’m ready to see how our running game goes this year.”

The Dons have an experienced defense. Junior Noah Wood returns in the line after a solid sophomore season.

“He’s been busting his butt and there’s a lot of schools keeping an eye on him,” Stone said. “He’s a defensive lineman that’s going to be hard to deal with this year. We’re excited for him.”

Johnny Valencia and Charlie Figueroa return at linebacker and the entire secondary is back.

Santa Barbara at a Glance

COACH: J.T. Stone, fifth year

LEAGUE: Channel — Cabrillo, Dos Pueblos, Lompoc, San Marcos, Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez


Top Returning Players

» Deacon Hill, Junior, QB, 6-4, 225: Saw a lot of action as a sophomore, started in playoff-clinching win over Dos Pueblos and in the CIF first-round game against Culver City; had strong offseason; made verbal commitment to Wisconsin of the Big Ten

» Dakota Hill, Senior, WR/DB, 5-10, 180: Great speed, good hands; All-South Coast and All-Channel League first team as a junior

» Jackson Gonzalez, Senior, WR 5-9, 150: Speedy, athletic (good basketball player); All-Channel League first team as a junior.

» Noah Wood, Junior, NG, 5-10, 260: All-South Coast and second-team All-Channel League on defense

» Johnny Valencia, Senior, LB 5-10, 195: Big hitter; second-team All-Channel League as a junior

» Moki Nacario, Senior, WR, 6-0, 165: Plenty of speed after the catch; second team all-league as a junior

» Joshua Rosales, Senior, DE, 6-2, 225: Honorable mention All-Channel League

» Jake Knecht, Junior, WR, 5-10, 155: Channel League sprint champion in track; second team all-league in football

» Chase Kamin, Senior, OL, 6-3, 280: Honorable mention all-league

» Justin Perez, Junior, RB/LB 5-11, 185: Second-team all-league running back as a sophomore

Newcomers Who Could Make an Immediate Impact

» Grant Gonzales, Sophomore, FS 5-10, 160: Younger brother of Jackson Gonzales

» Henry Haber, Senior, WR, 6-0, 175: Good athlete, starting setter on league-champion, CIF Division 1 quarterfinalist volleyball team

Players Receiving Recruiting Interest

» Deacon Hill: Committed to Wisconsin

» Dakota Hill: Being recruited by FCS and D2 schools

» Jackson Gonzales: Ivy League schools and D3 academic schools

Outstanding Scholar-Athletes

» Jackson Gonzales, WR

» Liam Tormey, WR/DB

» Henry Haber, WR

Team’s Strength

“Several experienced returners on both sides of the ball.”

Noozhawk Sports Editor Barry Punzal can be reached at bpunzal@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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