By Michael Kinney
Like most young boys who came up through the Carl Albert football program, Jake Hill had gridiron dreams. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of the Titans who came before him and went on to play college football.
However, after a leg injury cut Hill’s playing career short, he had to find another path to take. That path has led the 2017 CHS graduate to a career he could never have imagined.
For the past two seasons, Hill has been in charge of the Grounds Crew director at for USA Softball at Hall of Fame Stadium. It’s a position he could never have imagined himself being in. But the same lessons he learned with the Titans are still serving him today.
“I wanted to be a physical therapist. And then I got into my first microbiology class in college and that quickly changed,” Hill said. “I was working out here during the summers and I never expected to move up from picking up trash underneath the bleachers to being the head guy over a facility of this caliber in three years. But sometimes in life, you’re at the right place at the right time. And that’s kind of where I am.”
After graduating from CHS he started working at Hall of Fame Stadium in 2017 just collecting and dumping trash after game. He then moved his way up to the head of maintenance.
“And then in July of 2020, Chuck (White) the grounds guy here before me, he left and his assistant Ryan Morris took over July of 2020,” Hill explained. “I then slid over from maintenance to field crew. And then Ryan only lasted 11 months out here before he got a job offer. And so in July of 2021, I took over.”
It was White who taught Hill the ins and outs of running a grounds crew. White was also another CHS alum who coached baseball and softball.
“I’m thankful to have Chuck White and Ryan Morris who kind of molded me into who I am today,” Hill said. “If it wasn’t for them taking a chance on a 19, 20-year-old kid then, none of this would be possible.”
While Hill is in charge of maintaining the stadium field year around, it is in June when his work is under the most scrutiny. With the Women’s College World Series taking place every year in Oklahoma City, thousands of people in the stadium and millions on television get a bird’s eye view of his handiwork.
But for Hill, more important than how it looks is how safe it is to play on.
“It’s all about player safety. So during the 2021 World Series, there was a game between Florida State and OSU that started at like 11:50 at night and it didn’t get over until like two o’clock in the morning,” Hill said. “And Florida State actually won that game to send them into the championship series and they had to be back up here at like 7 a.m. to get media day stuff done. And so they leave the site at 2:30 a.m., they have to eat, they have to shower, they have to recover. So by the time they even go to bed, it’s probably 4 a.m. And then they play a championship game that night. So it’s definitely player safety.”
“I think the key to being a goods groundskeeper is to not overthink things,” Hill said. “I think that was what I did my first year and I still do it. Just being so young, so new to the industry, it’s very easy to overthink things and that’s when you run into mistakes. Be confident about what you do and who you are. And that’ll help you in any aspect of life too.”
Hill said he learned those life lessons early in life and they have served him well.
“I think all of that goes back to my, my days at Carl Albert,” Hill said. “I can’t say enough good things about that school, about Coach Rose, Coach Cam, Coach Terry, Coach Rollins, everybody. It’s an amazing place. You go there to be great and it’s expected of you.”
Despite not wearing a Carl Albert uniform since 2017, Hill recalled the pride he had the first time his old football coaches learned he was working for USA Softball.
“The first time I saw Coach Rose post-graduation was 2021. And I saw him at a wedding of one of my guys that I graduated high school with and played football with,” Hill said. “I saw him there and he was like, what are you doing? I think the wedding was like May 27th. So right before World Series. I tell him I’m the sports turf manager out there. You could tell his eyes started almost watering just out of pure excitement.”
According to Hill, everything he has done or will do was built on the foundation that has been built at Carl Albert.
“It’s a legendary place. You’re a winner and it definitely sets you up for the future. They change the outlook on life,” Hill said. “And the thing about Coach Rose is he doesn’t just build great football. He doesn’t just build great football players. He takes you from being a young kid into a young adult and a young man. He’s a character builder. Then he teaches you how to play football. I couldn’t say thank you enough.”