by Pete Zamplas- By the time you count to three, Three Hillier or his supersonic passes are zooming by you on the football field.
Asheville Cougars hope “Three’s a charm” and they can finally dethrone A.C. Reynolds, behind senior field general “Three” Hillier. Three is in his third season as the full-time starting quarterback, and fourth year with much varsity action.
Bill Hillier III goes by “Three.” He stands out as the Western Mountain Athletic Conference’s sole returning starting quarterback.
Someday, he is content to stay on sidelines instead of on the field — that is if he fulfills aspiration to join his pro hero Baker Mayfield. “My favorite, favorite is Baker Mayfield,” Three said about QBs. “I would just want to be his backup. He’s intense, and energetic.”
Three is much like Baker, the phenomenal NFL rookie of 2018 who won the Heisman Trophy with Oklahoma in ‘17. Both are diminutive fireballs with strong arms, confidence, daring, determination, superb field vision, quick feet and improvisation to make pivotal plays.
The game seems slower to him, as calmer and focused more into lateral vision. Three said he can “feel a blitz, with my vision. I can hang in there, and make my reads.” He has felt much more “comfortable” and in a “groove” over time. He has diffused pressure.
He has an even better instinctive connection with fellow senior Famous Pasley, the tall receiver, as they enter their third year together on varsity. “I know where he is (in pass routes), at all times. We signal each other. We know exactly what we mean.”
Three zings the ball as a baseball catcher and 90 mph pitcher and in football. Cougar football head coach David Burdette said the “Brett Favre-type gunslinger” has a “ballistic missile for an arm — the strongest I’ve ever seen on a young quarterback. He has a cannon. He can rear back, put some juice on it, and throw it 70 yards.”
Reynolds Coach Shane Laws said feisty Hillier “has poise. He handles pressure situations.” Erwin Coach Rodney Pruett said, “Three has great pocket presence. He knows when to distribute the ball” to nearer receivers, and “when to deliver it” with zest far downfield.
Three will unleash his intensity to fire up teammates and help AHS win ideally the WMAC title, but at least enough to make playoffs and hopefully host a game. Asheville’s main showdowns are at Erwin Sept. 20, and at Reynolds Oct. 18. “We were stuffed in the red zone four times last year,” by ACR. “We have to defeat their goal line scheme.”
Hillier said defeating and dethroning Reynolds would “mean everything in the world.” AHS already did that in 2019 — in spring baseball. The Cougars nipped recent WMAC champions Reynolds and Roberson for their first regular season league baseball title with Bill Hillier Jr. as head coach, and earned Asheville’s first home baseball playoff game ever. “It’s satisfying to win conference,” Three said. He hopes the title success carries over from the diamond to gridiron.
Three Hillier passed for over 3,100 yards in ’18, and for 29 touchdowns and 12 interceptions with about half in the red zone. “We want him to throw about 35 TDs, to only four interceptions,” Burdette said. He wants more arch on passes, for greater control and accuracy and to give receivers time to get to the ball. “He likes to flex his guns” with long and hard throws. As a varsity freshman, he was nervously “grabbing the ball and chucking it,” Burdette said. “I told him, ‘you have an arm — that’s a gift.’ You can throw it 70 yards — but also with some touch.” Hillier agreed that initially, “I was slingin’ the ball as hard as I could” on every throw. Then early into his sophomore campaign, he found out “when you’re nervous, you might cut off the arm motion” and not follow through much.
He has taken less risk in throws, but could take that another step, Burdette said. He needs to know when to throw the ball away” rather than throw into tight coverage requiring a perfect pass. “Make the high-risk throws rewarding, when we have to. If it’s fourth and ten and the game’s on the line, you gotta go all out. Not when it’s first and ten, near the goal. Dump it off, or throw it away.”
Three said that “last year, I got better at not forcing my throws and getting picked. If I did get picked, it was just a missed throw” rather than going for too precise of an opening as often as before. “This year, I want to make sure we don’t turn it over” much, he vowed. “That’s what loses the game.”
His new “rule is to not let us lose,” he said. Three is a fierce and fearless competitor. Recent AHS lineman Kaliq Moore “head butted me as hard as he could, to get me fired up when I was a freshman,” Three recalls. He needs no urging now. “I’m very intense during games. I’m just intense the whole time.”
He works on composure. “When I slip up, I’ll be ‘pissed.’ I show it, and I shouldn’t. I apologize to my people.” He is harder on himself, and calmer if others goof such as by dropping a pass. “I try to calm everyone down.
Three again has a green light to run off of RPO (run-pass options) option. “We’ll run many RPOs (run-pass options),” Burdette said. “He’ll have several reads” of the defense to check for room to run the ball or which receivers are open. This requires split-second decisions, and guts to take hits.
“He’s much more confident now,” Burdette said. “He’s stronger, and not afraid to get hit. He’s learning to tuck it in, and run more if nobody is open rather than force it in there. They’ll drop nine back into coverage. He’s pretty fast. He made a 16-yard run versus Reynolds” in 2018.
He was even tough against WMAC champ Rockets as a sophomore in 2017, Burdette recalled. Three “kept throwing for over 200 yards — even against Reynolds. He got hit by them. But Three got right back up.”
Three said he later found out he had fractured his collar bone in that ACR game. “I stayed in.” Two weeks later, after AHS’ off week, he was back in action. He said when ferocious ACR defenders charge, “they hit you in the mouth. It stings.” Then last year, he sustained a concussion against North Buncombe. Otherwise, he has been very durable.
He stands 5-foot-8, which is smaller than most area QBs. But he has bulked up to 188 pounds and can better withstand contact. He remains fast.
The first hit he feels in a game “gets the nervous out of you,” he said. That was most important in 2017 versus Erwin. He had been benched at halftime a week earlier, but had a chance to redeem himself and reclaim the QB gig. “Coach ran me up the middle. I got hit hard. I was locked in. I threw three TD passes, in the first half.” AHS won 33-6 at Erwin.
His more realistic pro sports aspiration is to play baseball, the Hillier family’s best sport. Bill Hillier Sr., Three’s grandfather, was a left-handed pitcher and hitter and a QB for Otterbein, a private college in his native Ohio. Senior coached Duke 20 years ago, with his son Bill Jr. as assistant. Bill Jr. played baseball for Durham Jordan High School, then for N.C. State.
Three stars on a summer traveling team, and for AHS. He is right-handed naturally, but learned to hit lefty from his father who had done the same. Impact Baseball lauds his “short compact swing, from the left side. Three idolizes two small star second basemen in Jose Altuve who blends speed and power, and fiery now-retired Dustin Pedroia.
The heralded strong-armed catcher is a “very intriguing prospect!,” Impact Baseball concluded. Three is learning his father’s “wipeout slider.” He said when pitching, “I’m angry. I feel I’m getting challenged” by batters. His younger brothers Connor (an AHS freshman) and seventh-grader Hayes Hillier (named after Ohio State coach Woody Hayes) also play baseball.
Three said he is intent on not dating during AHS football or baseball seasons. He found out in fall 2018 dating “kills the work ethic. When you have a girlfriend, it’s such a distraction. You don’t realize you’re not working as hard.”
He has a pending scholarship offer from the University of Pennsylvania. So far, that is his “dream” collegiate option. He is considering a major of sports marketing. He might start with the motto “Three’s a charm.”