Palmetto native Joe Hills holds the Arena Football League record for consecutive games with a touchdown reception.
He broke the record in July 2017 with a TD catch in his 79th straight game.
Hills, 30, led the Tampa Bay Storm to Arena Bowl XXX, where they fell to the Philadelphia Soul 44-40 last summer.
But after the Storm announced in December that they were ceasing football operations immediately, Hills’ football future was in doubt.
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In early January, Hills signed with the Lakeland-based Florida Tarpons of the American Arena League. The season kicks off in mid-March.
That, along with the XFL’s planned return in 2020 and his advice for high school football recruits with the Feb. 7 National Signing Day approaching, are some of the topics Hills discussed with the Bradenton Herald.
Bradenton Herald: What sold you on signing with the Lakeland Tarpons?
Hills: Two things. I’ve known (assistant) coach Brent Burnside for some time now. I’ve told him, at one point in my career, our paths would cross. He’s always had that team down in Fort Myers, the Tarpons, but they recently relocated to Lakeland. It’s ironic it happened in the same year that we aren’t going to play anymore. It’s kind of almost destined for it to happen. I’ve always told him before I end my career, I’d love to suit up for you. ... And it’s an opportunity to stay close to home.
BH: How do you think this opportunity sets you up for the future, whether that is in the NFL or not?
Hills: I don’t know that part. Like I said, it’s just another opportunity to do the things that I love and that’s play football. If (the NFL) will happen, it will happen. I always train outdoor stuff. I always run my routes outdoors. I never run indoor routes, until it is time. If it happens, it happens. I have no control over that. I hear stories about guys getting picked up off flag football or they go up to a camp and run a good 40 (yard dash). ... That’s not why I play the game of football, to get into the NFL. I play the game because I love it.
BH: What do you think about the XFL coming back in 2020?
Hills: I heard about that league. I don’t know much about it. When that league comes around, I’ll be way old. But I would definitely go out there and run routes if they paid me to.
BH: In addition to football, you’re also a case manager for former Tampa Bay Buccaneers legend Derrick Brooks’ youth charity program. How much do you love that?
Hills: I love talking to kids. I love trying to change lives. That’s what I do in my downtime outside of working out and playing video games. I try to give back to the community. I think kids are the wave of the future, and they need good role models and I take that challenge, with the way the world is going today, try to reach as many kids as I can and go from there.
BH: What’s the biggest thing you try to pass down to kids?
Hills: Do what you say you’re going to do. If everybody does what they say they’re going to do, I’ve yet to meet a person truly out to hurt another person. Everything’s always positive. ‘I’d like to go on and be a doctor. I’d like get all A’s. I’d like to not get in trouble in school today.’ And something happens from that statement until it happens, so I try to teach these young men to do what you say you’re going to do. I try to teach young ladies (to) act like a lady and people will treat you like a lady.
BH: How close do you follow your high school alma mater, Palmetto High, and the colleges you went to?
Hills: I definitely stay in touch with my Tigers at Palmetto. I still go back as much as possible to try to reach out to young kids. (Athletic director) Kenny Ansbro is still there. That’s my guy. Coach (Dave) Marino, we go way back. I still keep up with them. South Carolina? Not so much. I don’t really know a lot of people there. But Tennessee State, I definitely still reach out to my old ... coach (Rod) Reed. That’s about it.
BH: With National Signing Day coming soon, what’s your advice for high school football players dealing with the recruiting game?
Hills: I’d say enjoy it. Enjoy every moment of it. I will be up front with them to tell them, ‘These guys are going to be the nicest you’ve ever had before you put your name ... on that document and you’re accepted. It’s a business after that.’ I’d say make the decision wisely. Go where you’re going to start right away or you’re going to win a lot of championships, because it’s a business. It’s a rough road out there once you enter the NCAA. It’s business, so treat it as such. Compete. Live every moment as it’s your last and cherish it.’ The scholarships are year-to-year. I don’t know why they keep saying it’s a full ride, but it’s year-to-year. You have to renew your scholarships every year.