Palmetto’s Joe Hills is alone in the record book.
The Tampa Bay Storm wide receiver kept his consistency intact when he set a new Arena Football League record with a touchdown reception in 79 consecutive games on Saturday against Baltimore.
Damien Harrell held the record.
I never set out to set this record or anything like that. It was just always hard work trying to show up and do my job. From Day One to now, it's been consistency.
Tampa Bay Storm WR Joe Hills, a Palmetto High School alumnus
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“It’s been a journey, a journey we started a long time ago,” Hills told the Bradenton Herald. “I never set out to set this record or anything like that. It was just always hard work trying to show up and do my job. From Day 1 to now, it’s been consistency.”
That consistency revolves around route running and catching on the field to being a good husband and father off the field, Hills said. It’s worked during, “The Streak.”
Hills said it first started becoming a thing when he caught a touchdown pass for the 35th straight game. That was more than three years ago.
“Are we really talking about 78 games when we’re at 35 right now,” Hills recalled thinking. “It was so big. And right around 60 games, it kind of got old. It kind of got old. I was more focused on just winning championships.”
Along the way, Hills played with multiple quarterbacks and different receiving corps.
The last two seasons saw Hills in Jacksonville, before returning to the Storm this year.
Hills said he didn’t give the streak much thought until he entered the 2017 season. He sat at 72 straight games with a touchdown catch.
In Week 2, Hills was on the verge of having the streak end. With 33 seconds left in the game, Storm quarterback Randy Hippeard realized Hills didn’t have a touchdown reception yet. The game’s outcome was already decided.
“He said, ‘Hey Joe, I know we pretty much lost this game, but we better keep the streak going,’” Hills said. “That’s when it clicked to me that how important that this was. That’s when the streak became real, so to speak. Because he could have thrown it to anybody else.”
While that game nearly derailed the streak on the field, Hills also caught some backlash for a late June choice: rejoining the Jacksonville Sharks for two games while the Storm were on one of their bye weeks.
Fans criticized Hills on social media and the Storm suspended him. But that suspension was shortened after Hills agreed to come back to Tampa after just one game.
Hills said things are smooth with the Storm now.
“My teammates understood and people in the circle understood what was going on,” Hills said.
It was a favor Hills did to help the Sharks, who he spent two seasons with, win a championship.
“Jacksonville’s like family to me, I don’t have any problems with those guys,” Hills said. “Half the team I played with at some point in my career, so the locker room kind of welcomed me with open arms. We got the win and those guys won a championship, so more power to them.”
Hills isn’t just the AFL’s version of Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Cris Carter, who longtime ESPN anchor/studio host Chris Berman famously said, “All he does is catch touchdowns.”
Rather, he’s the AFL’s leading receiver and entered Saturday’s game with 104 receptions for 1,061 yards and 30 touchdowns.
“That’s what hurts me so bad about his relationship with the NFL,” Palmetto High School athletic director Kenny Ansbro said. “It doesn’t cost you anything to take a chance on a guy like this. What are you doing? Now it’s almost like, they can say what they want but they missed out on a great opportunity on a great young man. To me, I think that’s just sad.”
On his way to Saturday’s game in Baltimore, Hills bumped into Ansbro at Tampa International Airport.
The two consider each other family, and Ansbro said Hills is like him when it comes to recognizing the team is bigger than individual accolades. But on the verge of breaking the record, Ansbro said he told Hills he had to do it.
“It’s something that will be once in a lifetime for you,” Ansbro said.