Alexandra Ortiz | Asst. Sports Editor
Oct. 2, 2014
As the Tigers stepped on the field, new faces were revealed. It was a new season and a new roster, but everyone’s mind was focused on the new quarterback.After Skyler Howard left last season to West Virginia, everyone wondered who was going to step up and take the leadership role.
But who would take the reins of a team in search of a captain?
In the first half of the game against the Renegades, it seemed as if the Tigers didn’t get the quarterback they had hoped for, after a sack knocked the air out of him. But he came back to life as if a switched had been turned on.
That quarterback is Kelly Hilinski, a sophomore that transferred from Columbia University, who finished with 326 yards. Within the third play before halftime’ Hilinski turned the game around and became the playmaker the Tigers needed.
Hilinski carried his team on to a 51-3 victory against Bakersfield on Sept. 6.
The road to RCC has not been an easy one for Hilinski, filled with disillusion; frustration and even the loss of loved ones along the way.
Hilinski is a 6-foot 7-inch, 235-pounds quarterback that graduated from Sherman Oaks Notre Dame High School, originally from Claremont, California. Kelly comes from a football family, his dad, Mark Hilinski was an All-American defensive lineman and committed to Cal Berkeley before a heart defect put an end to his career.
Kelly started playing football at the age of 6-years-old, his dad Mark always wanted him to be a tight end but after a young Kelly revealed a strong arm, he seemed like a natural fit for the quarterback position.
The first years for Kelly were rough. It wasn’t until the eighth grade that Kelly showed his athletic coordination and fell in love with the sport; being a quarterback and a leader on the field.
“You can’t teach how to be a leader,” said Hilinski, “I’ve always kind of been a leader it comes natural to me.”
Kelly, the oldest of three boys, always served as a positive role model and a football outlet for his siblings. Both of his younger brothers follow in his footsteps by playing the same position. Tyler, the middle child is considered one of the top quarterbacks in the area and recently committed to Washington State.
Kelly predicts that the youngest brother Ryan will be the best quarterback among the bunch.
Kelly is very close to his whole family, especially his mom, describing himself as a mama’s boy.
Kelly said that he loves to spend the weekends attending his brothers’ football games, eating lots of food, and catching every NFL game on TV.
Columbia wasn’t always part of Hilinski’s plans. But after the Bobby Petrino scandal at University of Arkansas, the school Kelly hoped to attend, Columbia seemed to outweigh all the other options he had left.
“It seemed like the right decision at the time, I mean its Columbia. They had a great Pre-med program, (former New York Yankee) Lou Gehrig, one of my favorites went there, and I really wanted to be one of the few quarterback to come out of an Ivy League school,” said Hilinski.
Once at Columbia, Kelly didn’t feel all that great about his decision.
“(It) wasn’t the best program out there to put it nicely and the football program wasn’t respected,” Hilinski explained, coming out of Notre Dame high school, which once was ranked number 30 in the nation.
Kelly explained how at Columbia it was more “students trying to be athletes, instead of true student athletes,” which he really takes pride in balancing his academic and athletic abilities.
At Columbia Kelly had trouble getting use to the NFL style of coaching. His athletic coordinator and coaches were very business oriented. Hilinski with his very outgoing and friendly personality felt he couldn’t thrive in that type of environment.
Back in California, Hilinski expressed his turmoil at home.
“My parents were going through a divorce, one of my grandparents died unexpectedly, the other was diagnosed with cancer, absolutely had a lot going on back at home.” said Hilinski.
“My family knows me very well and they told me ‘yes education is important, but it’s what you do with it that really makes a difference.’”
Kelly reached out to one of his old coaches at Santa Monica City College for advice on where to go next. His coach mentioned RCC and how Craft had turned the football program around into one of the top programs in the nation.
RCC had just lost Skylar Howard and were on the lookout for a new starting quarterback.
Coach Craft happened to be really good friends with Kelly’s old coach and the two got in touch. Hilinski said, “He (Coach Craft) said ‘yea come out and we’ll go from there.’”
Kelly arrived at RCC in June competing against the three other opponents for the quarterback position.
Hilinski admits that during summer camp he looked shaky and lost. He said Coach Craft runs a very high-tempo, high-pace game; nothing like what he had been use to at Columbia. Yet Kelly believed he had to work harder than anyone else on the team to earn their respect.
After the first week of fall camp he suffered a bee sting that caused him an allergic reaction that sent him to the hospital.
“He came back better than ever!” said Coach Craft.
Coach Craft joked that the day Hilinski came back he didn’t know what happened at the hospital, coming back as a completely new and improved quarterback.
During fall camp Hilinski proved to the coaching staff what he could do.
A couple of weeks before the season started, Coach Craft finally announced that Kelly Hilinski was going to be his starting quarterback for the 2014 football season.
“It wouldn’t have felt right if I wasn’t the leader,” said Hilinski,”I love it!”
Hilinski said that he had gotten the kind of father son relationship through Craft he had been longing for at Columbia.
Hilinski felt there was room to grow together as a family, unlike Columbia that was very goal oriented.
Kelly described Craft as a “second father for me,” always pulling him to the side to give him pointers and showcase his attributes.
“He definitely saw something in me that my other coaches hadn’t been able to. I’m a better person and a better quarterback because of him,” said Hilinski.
Nana Randolph, Hilinski’s grandma is probably the biggest influence he ever had.
Nana Randolph unfortunately passed away from ALS when Kelly was barely 10-years-old.
“She was like my second mom, my greatest supporter, always my number one fan,” commented Hilinski.
ALS is a dehumanizing disease that affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement.
Victims of ALS become paralyzed, passing away 24 months after being diagnosed,
Nana Randolph only lasted a year.
Hilinski remembers very vividly the last time he was able to say goodbye.
“I remember I couldn’t stop crying and even though I was young I knew that was going to be the last time I was going to be with her,” said Kelly.
Kelly gave her a kiss one last time and started walking to the door, when all of a sudden a sigh caught his attention. When he turned around it was Nana Randolph calling him back to her side.
As he sat next to her once again crying his eyes out, he looked up and she was just smiling.
Somthing an ALS patient at this stage of the disease should not be able to do.
“I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen,” described Kelly.
Again Kelly tried to leave the room when once again Nana Randolph called him back to her side. Nana Randolph had a message for Kelly that would mark him for the rest of his life.
Relying on an alphabet board because of her paralysis, Nana Randolph spelled out “Never Quit” and “Be a Legend.”
Since that day Kelly always wears the Yankees Gehrig’s Grit bracelet; “Gehrig’s Grit. Never Quit. Beat ALS.”
Kelly kept Nana Randolph’s story to himself until he was 17 years old.
“She was the strongest woman I knew, I felt selfish to keep it in and I wanted to raise awareness,” said Hilinski.
Hilinski is one of the young faces of ALS awareness, and has been honored at a San Francisco Giants game for his participation .
In his free time, Kelly participates in many charity events and even took part in the frenzy ice bucket challenge to raise money for ALS research.
As far as life-goals, Kelly aims to pursue a medical degree to help find the cure for ALS.
“I dedicate everything that I am to find a cure. I don’t want another kid to lose their grandma to such a dehumanizing disease,” expressed Hilinski.
Hilinski also has on and off the field goals he writes before every game.
He always strives to be the best person he can be even off the field.
RCC will have to wait and see if Hilinski’s leadership can bring a championship to Wheelock Stadium once again.
Hilinski plans on playing for the Tigers for the remainder of the season with high hopes of transferring next semester.
Kelly was offered a scholarship to the University of Maryland that is still in the works.
Hilinski says, “I know I am going to have a great time here. I love the guys already and I believe in their abilities that they can come through and be a championship team.”