When coach Eric Thomas arrived at Lee’s Summit High School, a Division I quarterback topped his depth chart. And while Corbin Berkstresser was set to graduate after the ensuing season, Thomas knew he would need to wait only one year to turn the job over to another Division I passer, Drew Lock.
But even with the next half-decade mapped out, Thomas began planning for the more distant future. So every Tuesday after conducting his own practice, he drove to the nearby middle schools and scouted the incoming talent.
That’s where he first stumbled upon Dalton Hill.
“I was playing running back and wide receiver in a sixth-grade game, and coach Thomas came up to my coach and me and said, ‘He needs to start playing quarterback. That’s going to be our quarterback when he gets to be an upperclassman,’ ” Hill said.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
“It’s kind of funny, but that’s when it all started, I guess.”
The declaration came from two noticeable traits — football intelligence and supreme athleticism. Hill had them both.
The combination has come to fruition at the high school level — just as Thomas predicted. In his senior season, Hill is the conductor of an offense that accounts for 41.7 points per game and is largely responsible for Lee’s Summit’s 6-1 record. In seven games, he has thrown for 1,645 yards and 17 touchdowns.
“It’s been a long time coming, but I’m always in search of that next guy,” Thomas said. “We’ve been fortunate to have Corbin and Mr. Lock come through here. For what we do offensively, we’ve got to have that guy.”
And if it’s possible, Thomas says, Hill may actually be a better fit to be “that guy” in this offense than his predecessors who attended Missouri on football scholarships. Why? His ability to move the chains with his feet.
In addition to his success throwing the ball in the spread offense, Hill has run for 571 yards and six more scores. The dual threat allows Thomas to further open his playbook.
“We put a lot on Dalton’s shoulders,” Thomas said. “When we run the ball, there was an option for him to pass built into that play also. When we pass the ball, there was an option for him to run it there. We’re able to do all that because of what he’s capable of doing.”
At a rapid speed, no less.
While the offense has its unique traits, none are more obvious than the pace at which it operates. In the season opener against Blue Springs, Lee’s Summit ran more than 100 offensive plays.
In the Tigers’ victory against defending state-champion Blue Springs South, they completed a 10-play touchdown drive in just over 2 minutes.
It requires some quick thinking. Using one word, Thomas relays the play to Hill’s headset. From that moment, Hill must call out the formation and routes to all of his receivers and give the offensive line its assignment.
“We want to snap the ball as fast as the referees will let us,” Hill said. “We want to wear out the defense, and you can tell it works when they have to sub guys out of the game. You can hear guys trying to catch their breath. A lot of times this year we’ve had guys faking injuries against us just so they can catch their breath.”
There is a downside to all of this — the running. Every Monday, after a full-pads practice, Lee’s Summit spends 15 minutes running 100-yard sprints. The drill is essentially nonstop.
“I ran it with them the other day. I bailed after 10 (minutes),” Thomas said. “They get after it, man. I told them afterward that’s why they win games.”