Hilario Carrillo

Hilario Carrillo’s high school football career ended early in the first half of the 2015 2A title game. A broken bone in his foot forced the him out of the game with Aberdeen down two scores and without a thread of momentum.

The best player on the best 2A team in Idaho was sidelined. An all-state running back and linebacker that rallied the Tigers all season while playing through an ankle injury was standing on the sideline in a cast.

It was a bitter end to Carrillo’s season, and to Aberdeen’s. The Tigers lost the title game against Grangeville 42-12. Carrillo never got his championship sendoff.

But for Carrillo, the Idaho State Journal’s 2015 All-Area Football Player of the Year, that’s not a day he dwells on. Colleges are lining up to take a closer look at the Mexican kid from Aberdeen that broke the mold.

FUTBOL TO FOOTBALL

Like many of his family members, Carrillo grew up playing soccer. He attended football games but was disinterested in the action on the field until he entered sixth grade.

His first year on the gridiron, Carrillo was used — sparingly — as a lineman. His football knowledge was minimal, and as a result he got less playing time than a girl on his team.

“That’s how bad I was,” Carrillo said.

The summer before his seventh-grade year, teammate Jared Carrasco and his uncle, Angel Gonzalez, flipped through Carrasco’s yearbook. Gonzalez was taking over as the head coach of Carrasco’s and Carrillo’s Little League team. They wanted to see what they were working with and who they could add to the sparse 17-man roster.

Gonzalez remembered Carrillo, specifically his size and speed. He remembered watching Carrillo sit the bench the year before, unschooled and underutilized.

With a little teaching, Gonzalez thought, this kid could be pretty good.

“When I saw him, he just looked to me like an athlete,” Gonzalez said. “Like one of those people that can be good at any sport.”

Gonzalez inserted new option offenses that were being used by then-Aberdeen High School head coach Cory Hollingsworth. Carrillo was the fullback. Carrillo was fast. Carrillo was a beast.

Carrillo was a football player.

“He just took off,” Gonzalez said. “Once he learned what he was doing, he just took off and looked like the best player on the field. It was natural for him. ... We basically just gave him a chance.”

Carrillo continued to excel his eighth-grade season and into high school. He got faster and better every season and was named to the all-Idaho first team at linebacker as a junior and helped lead Aberdeen to its first state championship game in 36 years.

DEFLATED STATS

It’s hard to believe, but Carrillo’s numbers from his senior season could have been a lot better.

Yes, his 1,022 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns, 117 tackles, 16 sacks, 36 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, interception and two defensive touchdowns are fewer than Carrillo’s full potential. He tore multiple ligaments in his right ankle in a preseason jamboree, but played through it. Carrillo was less than 100 percent healed for most of the season and barely tallied any stats in Aberdeen’s final game.

“In the first probably three of four games, we played him very sparingly on offense,” said Tigers head coach Jeff Duffin. “If he would have been 100 percent right out of the gate playing both sides of the ball, he could have probably easily had 1,600-1,700 yards rushing.”

Carrillo said his ankle was between 60 and 80 percent healed for most of the season.

“It was enough to where I could play,” he said.

Still, Carrillo had monster performances in Aberdeen’s biggest games of the season.

He racked up 21 tackles and 101 rushing yards in a 27-16 win at North Fremont.

When Aberdeen knocked off West Side 41-14 to claim the District 5 title and end the Pirates’ 19-game winning streak, Carrillo rushed for 135 yards and three scores while recording eight tackles and a sack.

In the Tigers’ first-round playoff win against Firth, Carrillo notched 12 tackles, three tackles for loss and recovered a fumble for a touchdown.

In the state quarterfinals against St. Maries, Carrillo chugged ahead for 145 yards and Aberdeen’s only two touchdowns of the game while amassing 10 tackles, two sacks, six tackles for loss and an interception.

“When he started feeling better and getting healthier as we went into the playoffs,” Duffin said, “you saw signs of just how dominant he could be.”

Carrillo was named the 2A District 5 Player of the Year and earned first-team all-state nods at both linebacker and running back.

NIGHTMARE FINALE

When Carrillo was at his healthiest all season, Aberdeen was on the cusp of its first-ever state championship.

Everyone was relaxed. They had been here before.

And then the game started.

Grangeville scored three minutes in and led 9-0 after Aberdeen’s first offensive play resulted in a safety. Then it was 16-0 after Grangeville’s ensuing drive.

Aberdeen finally scored a touchdown to make the score 16-6, but it came with a price. During the scoring drive, Carrillo suffered a Jones fracture below his pinky toe, a fracture that, in recent years, has been common in soccer players.

“I didn’t feel the break. I was like, oh it’s just a stinger, so I kept on,” Carrillo said. “When I went to go tackle a guy ... when I went up on my toes, that’s when I was like, nope.”

Carrillo left the game and returned with a boot on his left foot. His teammates rallied around their star, told him they’d win the game for him, told themselves they wouldn’t let one injury stop them from living out a dream.

But it wasn’t their day. Carrillo’s presence at outside linebacker was absent, and Aberdeen’s wing-T offense had one less weapon for Grangeville to home in on.

“Usually, if Hilario is having a great game, then it opens me up a litlte bit,” said Carrasco, Aberdeen’s starting quarterback and defensive back. “And since he wasnt there, it just kind of disrupted everything.”

HOMETOWN PRIDE

Carrillo’s football playing days are far from over. He’s received recruitment letters from the University of Idaho and has garnered interest from Idaho State.

“I think he can play linebacker in college,” Gonzalez said. “Or safety. I really do. He’s got the athleticism. He has the speed and he knows the game.”

A few years ago, Carrillo considered transferring to Highland in order to get more recruiting eyes on him. He knew the football pedigree at the school was exceptional and that college scouts frequently attended their games.

But it didn’t feel right. He was raised in Aberdeen, not Pocatello. He got brought up through Aberdeen’s football system, not Highland’s.

“If I’m going to get a scholarship,” Carrillo said, “it’s going to be for this town.”

What others are saying

“Arguably, he’s one of the best players that’s played in Aberdeen.” — Aberdeen head coach Jeff Duffin

“He clearly makes that football team. On both sides of the ball.” — Marsh Valley head coach Thomas Elliott

“Even though the offense ran through him (and) we knew he was going to get the ball, you had a hard time stopping him.” — Firth head coach Keith Drake