Being the big man on campus took on a whole new perspective for Bakersfield High senior Josiah Hill.
At 6-foot-2 and 285 pounds, the Drillers’ star wrestler would have stood out regardless of what he accomplished on the mat.
But that wasn’t enough for Hill. He’s just not wired that way. Hill showcased that with one of the most dominating wrestling seasons in Kern County history.
Hill capped an impressive career by becoming the first area heavyweight to win a CIF State Championship, doing so in dramatic fashion at Mechanics Bank Arena on Leap Year Day nearly six weeks ago. The performance capped an impressive season and earned Hill 2019-20 BVarsity All-Area Boys Wrestler of the Year honors.
“It’s still, even now, it’s a hard thing to put into words,” Hill said. “I think some people overvalue the importance of it, some undervalue the importance of it, but to me I think it’s a personal experience for everybody. And for me, I really, really enjoyed it. I had a great time wrestling at the state tournament and I loved winning and everything, but I have to keep in perspective. It’s only a moment in your life. If you win, then what? It was really awesome, but it didn’t change my life in significant ways. It was more of just an add-on to my life.”
Hill’s crowning moment came in the state final against a familiar foe, No. 2 seeded Nicholas Villarreal from Gilroy, who handed him his only loss of the season in the opening tournament of the year. Hill defeated Villarreal in their next two meetings to take over the top-ranked wrestler, but Villarreal appeared to have Hill’s number in the final.
“It definitely seemed like in the beginning that Villarreal might have had him on the ropes a few times, but Josiah … he was going big,” Bakersfield High coach Andy Varner said. “I mean he could have sat back and been super conservative like a lot of kids do when they get to the championship, but that’s not him. He goes for it every time.”
That philosophy led to an early 2-0 deficit when Villarreal got an early takedown and was going for more with a 2-1 lead in the second period. But somehow in a flash, Hill regained his balance and quickly turned the tables on his nemesis. The state’s top-ranked heavyweight wound up on top of a suddenly-vulnerable Villarreal and applied immediate pressure, locked Villarreal down and scored a pin at 2:38, as the crowd at Mechanic Bank Arena erupted in cheers.
And just like that, Josiah Hill was a state champion.
“He’s such a big guy and so athletic, and eventually Josiah was able to get the upper hand,” said Varner of Hill, who is committed to wrestle at Arkansas-Little Rock next season. “But that’s also what makes Josiah so good. His confidence. He expects to win every time he goes out there. That’s huge in this sport to have that kind of mindframe. Even in the biggest stage in high school. He wasn’t shaken by it and he expected to win.
“For him to do the things he does at his size is pretty amazing. To move a 300-pound guy over in mid air and land on top of the guy, was pretty spectacular.”
Even more amazing is the road Hill traversed to even get to that point.
Hill’s father, Damon Hill Sr., 41, was killed in a motorcycle accident a few weeks after last year’s state meet.
His father’s death hit Josiah hard, and many close to Josiah wondered if he’d ever wrestle again.
“It’s a hard thing to ever prepare for,” said Bakersfield High coach Andy Varner. “You never expect something like that to happen, and you never truly get over something like that. But I think he knows that he has a family that’s there for him. He’s got a team and coaches that are there for him.”
After taking a few months off, Hill’s desire to wrestle was rekindled during the summer.
After an early-season defeat to Gilroy’s Nicholas Villareal, Hill hasn’t lost, and will take a 38-1 record into the opening match of the state tournament, where he finished seventh last season.
“All throughout the season all I could think about is this one memory of (my dad),” said Hill, whose mother died when he was 12 years old. “When I took seventh at state, and I was like in my own head I was like, ‘man, this is not where I want to be, I wanted to be a state champ.’ But I looked up in the stands and there he is with the biggest smile that I’ve ever seen him have. He’s just like clapping and yelling like never before.”
While the memory of his father gives him comfort, Hill’s network of support that includes his brother Damon Jr., and sisters Tiffany, 29, Alicia, 27, Kylah 19 and Jordan, 13 has given him the foundation to keep moving forward.
“My family are my biggest fans,” said Hill, who has committed to wrestle at Arkansas-Little Rock next year. “When I lose, they are always there for me. I know that at the end of the day, even after the win or the loss, after I got my medal and stood on the stand, at the end of the day, I’m going to go home and eat dinner with my family and be happier than a medal will ever make me.”
In addition to overcoming personal tragedy, Hill’s path to a state championship was anything but traditional, especially considering he had never donned a singlet or wore a pair of wrestling shoes when he arrived on the Bakersfield High campus in 2016.
“To be honest, it was the same process throughout every year,” said Hill, who placed eighth at the state meet as a junior. “Every year I just listened to my coaches, put my faith in God and became a student of the sport. I literally surrounded myself with the sport every single day of my life. My best friends came from the sport. Before I went to bed I was watching YouTube clips of wrestling at night, then I ended up getting a wrestling account so I could watch film. That helped me realize that whatever I do, if I wanted to be great, I had to study it. I studied so much, talked to people, I practiced so much. I put hours on the mat, hours in the weight room, hours in the wrestling room. I changed my lifestyle to accomplish what I wanted to.”
Hill’s level of commitment was perhaps the most impressive thing about his accomplishments.
“It’s pretty phenomenal how far he’s come in such a short period of time,” Varner said. “I think that just speaks to his athleticism and his work ethic, and his just pure desire to win and to be successful. If there’s anybody that wanted to win, it was Josiah, and he really, really wanted to win that state title. He was disappointed last year, even though he was excited to win a state medal, he expected to win a state title as a junior. So to finish the way he did is just amazing.”