Before MMA fans around the country knew Corey Hill as a competitor in the UFC, he was an athletic star at Springstead High School. For those that truly knew Hill, he was much more than a guy who grotesquely broke his leg during a match in 2008, an incident that quickly became a viral video. This past week, many local residents have mourned the passing of Hill, who at age 36 died of health issues related to his lungs.
The 1997 Springstead graduate who still maintained residence in Spring Hill left behind a wife and three children, and memories of an outstanding athletic career that came flooding back to those that were there for the ride. Prior to Bob Levija becoming Springstead's athletic director, he built a Hall of Fame career as the school's wrestling coach. He watched Hill win two state championships on the mats, in 1996 and 1997. "He was a great kid," Levija said. "Gave back to the community. Gave back to other people. Was just always looking out. Always had a smile. A hard worker. "When I had a major operation and he had a major operation with his leg, he'd come over to see how I am and we'd kind of laugh how we can't do anything anymore. But he'd come over and visit me. Just a super individual."
Known as "The Real Deal," Hill was an all-conference performer in football and track and field with the Eagles before moving on to an MMA career in which he went 6-9 overall. His most recent match was in February. "God," Levija said of what provided the 6-foot-4, 167-pound Hill with his ability. "He was the best athlete to ever come out of Springstead. Maybe not the best wrestler per se, but the greatest athlete. Football, track; you put a tennis racket in his hand and he'd kill you with it. "He was just a great athlete and a tough kid. I thought he was invincible."
Interestingly, Levija said that Hill was on the verge of being hired as a girls basketball coach at Springstead. He had been working with Nature Coast's wrestling program, where his nephew competed. The Eagles' new wrestling coach, Mike LaRocca, touched on Hill's emerging coaching career among other topics. LaRocca also graduated from Springstead in 1997, building a relationship with Hill as a classmate, teammate and friend. "When I heard about Corey just even being in the hospital, that right there; it's like Superman having kryptonite," LaRocca said. "I kind of take it because my dad was taken short, and I just feel for his children. I knew how much he wanted to give to them and teach them what he knew as an athlete. "I just feel like he's been so robbed of what he could have been doing. The world lost a really, really great guy. As much as you seen that arrogant cockiness and showmanship on the field, as soon as he got off he was that first guy to shake their hand, give them a hug, tell them 'Good job, I'll see you on the field.'"
Like Levija, LaRocca feels Hill's versatility makes him stand out among Springstead's past and present athletes. "We've had a lot of great athletes come through here, especially since I've been back coaching," LaRocca said. "But overall, in any sport, he's probably the greatest Springstead athlete ever. Yeah, you had Ed Chester, went away to play (football) at Florida. But he didn't dominate in other sports. He didn't dominate in track and field. He's not in the record books for an extreme discus or shot. You didn't see him dominate in basketball.
"But Corey, he dominated in everything he did. If you knew Corey was on the field, if you knew Corey was on the track or on the mat, we were going to win." It saddened LaRocca to know Hill would not be able to take the next step in his athletic endeavors. "I think as he saw himself fading from the athlete, he wanted to see himself become that great coach," LaRocca said. "And that's what we got robbed of, of a great mind coaching those younger kids."