(Photo: Brett Deckert/WCSN)
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Nick Hillier isn’t your usual captain.
Or really, he is, but the way in which he earned that role isn’t so usual.
Out of Mountain Vista High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, he wasn’t heavily recruited, and the schools that did express interest just weren’t the right fit. So he landed at Arizona State.
A three-sport athlete in high school, Nick was torn between hockey, a sport he’s played all his life, and lacrosse, though something pushed him to leave behind the ice for the field.
One meeting later, and he was sold. Nick was on the lacrosse team. The hard work began immediately.
“I just worked really hard. That’s kind of what I’ve always done my whole life in everything I’ve done, and so from the very start of freshman year I just made sure that I was doing everything I could,” Hillier, now a senior, recalled.
Doing everything he could meant earning playing time as a freshman. By his sophomore year, Nick was one of the best players on the team. Fast forward to just before his senior year, and the walk-on, who wasn’t recruited, who entered that first team meeting as a nobody, was a captain.
Clearly it’s deserved.
“I really believe that showing guys how to play and showing guys how to be a good teammate is the best way to do it,” Hillier said of his leadership tactics.
Teammate: it’s a favorite word of Nick’s. You can tell, not only by how much he uses it, but by how important he believes it is to be a good one.
“[You have to do it] on and off the field; help guys on the field, talk to guys off the field, help them with schoolwork, help them with life problems,” Hillier explained. “Being a good teammate is being be a good friend, essentially. A huge factor in making a good team is being there no matter what for everyone on the team.”
Talk to his teammates, and you’ll get a firm sense of how well Nick practices what he preaches. Talk to him, and you’ll see why.
“He’s just someone everyone can go to behind the scenes, on or off the field,” Justin Straker, a fellow senior and captain and self-proclaimed best friend of Hillier’s, said.
“The camaraderie that you get from being on a team, you can’t compare it to anything else,” Nick said. “That’s what its all about. That’s what I come back for year after year.”
His relationship with his team depends on respect. He’s earned that respect through not only his words, but his actions. That’s how he believes a captain should do it, and it’s working.
“It’s definitely his mentality, he’s always been a hard worker. He was a hockey player growing up so he’s always physical on the field, always getting after people, and he’s not afraid to let you know when you’re not working hard,” Straker added.
ASU head coach Chris Malone has been alongside Hillier from the start. He recalls Nick’s early days with the team, though his time as a freshman on the bench is long gone and far from where he is now.
“You hope that the young guys can learn from that and see what he’s doing and so, when it’s time to replace him, we have guys that can do it and do it just like he did,” Malone said.
Do it just like he did. Nick says the same about his coach, who’s instilled a “Be the Best” mindset for this team. Simply put: be the best you can be in everything you do.
Nick’s gotten the message, loud and clear.
“That’s kind of something that I take and try to do in everything in my life. I try to be the best in my job. I try to be the best in school,” Nick said. “That’s kind of the impact hes had in my life, for sure.”
Being a captain also means being a senior, which also means this will be Nick’s last year with the team.
“It’s tough to replace those guys that you get, a guy who’s consistently doing it every week, day in and day out,” Malone said of losing a high impact senior like Hillier.
Many players come and go, often simply as another eager and motivated face on a team rather full of them. Others take that motivation to the next level, and they become invaluable to their team. Those players become captains. Captains leave behind legacies.
Nick Hillier knows what he wants his to be.
“Hopefully I’m remembered in a positive light so that guys can look up to me or guys can say, ‘There was this guy, Nick Hillier, and he was like this and he did these things and those things helped us win,’ and just be a guy that, hopefully, people wanna be like,” Nick said with a nervous laugh.
It’s safe to say that his legacy has already been cemented.
Nick Hillier has made an impact on this team that will last long after he has to walk away.
You can reach the reporter on Twitter @Brett_Deckert or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.