Ryan Hilinski has stood center stage with spotlights and attention on him before. Literally and figuratively.
As a sophomore at Orange Lutheran High School in California, the quarterback’s first varsity start came in a college stadium in a game his team unveiled its new Adidas uniforms. NFL six-time Pro-Bowler Terrell Owens gave it its pregame locker room speech.
His third start came against the No. 3 team in California, and his fifth came against the No. 1 team in Colorado. Start seven came at Mater Dei and now USC quarterback J.T. Daniels. Start 10 came against now Iowa State backup quarterback Re-al Mitchell.
That was life in Southern California’s famed high school football Trinity League.
Although it will be on a national, grander stage, the freshman Hilinski should be his normal calm, cool and collected self when he starts his second career game for the Gamecocks (1-1) against Alabama (2-0) on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (CBS).
“That was the game that we always talked about at O Lu, the one against ‘Bama,” said Jojo Hawkins, Hilinski’s high school teammate.
“Obviously Mater Dei and St. John Bosco and are nothing compared to Alabama. Not even anything close. But the way he would handle those games was very calm,” said Jack Fierro, another one of Hilinski’s Orange Lutheran teammates.
“Even though many other people on the team would have very little faith that we would win, Ryan would always come in with the expectation that we’re going to go punch them in the mouth and win. Even though it always didn’t work out, that was his expectation.”
Added Orange Lutheran teammate, K.J. Trujillo, “He never folded under pressure. “He was always a great leader for us and always kept us up and motivated and positive. His head is always in the right place.”
Hilinski’s teams went 0-3 against both Mater Dei and St. John Bosco — a team that featured Mitchell and, for two years, star prospect DJ Uiagalelei — during his tenure, but the Lancers learned from the experiences. The team won three games during Hilinski’s tenure after losing to that team the year before.
Hilinski has also literally at the spotlight on him.
A member of the Honors Choir in high school, Hilinski was part of several school performances. He and a classmate even sang the national anthem before a game against Romoland Heritage.
“That’s him,” Orange Lutheran head coach J.P. Presley said. “That’s the personality that he has.”
“He was in quite a few shows,” Fierro said. “He seemed to really enjoy it and was pretty good at it. He has a pretty good voice.”
Hilinski’s friends and former teammates will be watching Saturday.
“He’s a strong deep ball guy, so you’re going to see him throwing a lot of back-shoulder throws. That’s what I’d love to see in this Alabama game, especially since South Carolina has always been known for having big, physical receivers,” high school teammate David Tax said. “Then he starts throwing those type of balls, you’re going to see quick completions and him driving down the field.”
Added Tax, “If he’s able to pull it off against Alabama, I think we all know who the real USC is. Go Cocks!”