It was a tough decision for AJ Hill, but one that he felt he needed to make.
The Du Quoin grad, former star quarterback and four-year coach of the football team is no longer its football coach. He informed his players on Tuesday that he’s leaving for another job in the Springfield area.
Hill said the job offer only materialized in the last three weeks. The decision was made easier by the fact his girlfriend will start medical school in the Springfield area soon.
“It wasn’t an easy thing to do,” he said Wednesday night of leaving his alma mater. “I’m from Du Quoin, I grew up there, played there and they welcomed me back with open arms to coach here at 24 years old. I knew telling the kids would be the hardest part of my decision.”
Hill made the playoffs every year as the Indians’ coach, posting an overall record of 27-15. His best season occurred in 2016, when they went 9-3 and advanced to the Class 2A quarterfinals. Du Quoin was a 3A playoff qualifier in Hill’s other three seasons, but lost in the first round each time.
In his last year as the Indians’ coach, Hill was 6-0 and headed for a seventh straight win when they led Anna-Jonesboro 35-21 in the fourth quarter on Oct. 5. The Wildcats rallied to stun Du Quoin 36-35, starting a downhill slide to the season’s end.
Losses at Nashville and Murphysboro forced the Indians on the road for the first round at Williamsville, where they were blown out in the second half to finish with a four-game losing streak.
“When you look at it, we lost to four good football teams,” he said of that skid. “When you play four good teams in a row, it’s going to come down to who makes the big plays when it counts. Unfortunately, it wasn’t us, but it was still a fun season.”
Whoever replaces Hill will have to retool an offense that’s losing big-play threats like running back Westly Milam, quarterback Josh Heape and wide receiver/running back Shamar Adams. But the Indians should be strong along both lines and will return game-breaking wide receiver Dasani Edward.
Heape took to Twitter Wednesday night after learning of Hill’s decision.
“Du Quoin is losing a great coach and an even better guy,” Heape said.
The Indians have made the playoffs in 32 of the last 35 years and remain one of the few schools in the area that consistently turns out big numbers for football. Hill said last summer that 100 players showed up for the first day of practice.
Hill said his four years were successful, but wished he could have added more to the school’s rich tradition.
“Getting the town excited about it again in 2016 was cool for me to see from the other side,” he said. “I felt it was good to start another streak of getting to the playoffs.”