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Sports Person of the Week
Gbunblee Ready to Create Lasting Legacy with Warriors
Hill Gbunblee is the new head coach of the Valley Regional-Old Lyme football team. Gbunblee is eager to see what the Pequot Conference competition will look like this fall. (Photo courtesy of Hill Gbunblee)
Hill Gbunblee is elated to serve as the new head coach of the Valley Regional-Old Lyme football team this coming fall. After working as an assistant with the Warriors, Hill will assume the head coaching position in the wake of Tim King’s 30-plus years at the helm. Hill brings experience as a player and a coach, and he can’t wait to take the field with the Warriors in 2021.
Hill is over the moon to have earned the chance to coach the Warriors this season. Hill knows that he has big shoes to fill, but he’s eager to take on that challenge.
“I’m pumped. I’m super excited. It’s a dream come true to be candid. It’s a heavy responsibility to take the reins of a program that was so well-run and well-known for its integrity. Following Tim King and Steve Woods is a big responsibility. Those two guys set the standard for this program; beyond that, they are phenomenal men,” Hill says. “The administration put their trust in me, and more importantly, so did the players. It’s something I have looked forward to for a long time. You always dream of running your own program and making the calls. Getting this opportunity, it was a no-brainer for me to seize it.”
Hill has had a circuitous path to coaching at Valley Regional. Hill was born in Liberia, and his parents moved to Philadelphia when Hill was about five years old. Hill’s family moved to North Carolina where Hill attended West Rowan High in Mount Ulla. After high school, Hill attended college at University of North Carolina Charlotte after a brief stint at Mars Hill University. Hill had a strong high school career as a football player, but unfortunately, Hill tore his ACL toward the end of his career and aggravated that injury in college.
“In 8th grade, I tried out for varsity and made the team, but I didn’t get a chance to finish the season. We moved to North Carolina, and I played JV for one game. I played varsity from freshman year, worked hard sophomore year as a receiver and back up quarterback,” says Hill. “I became starting quarterback my junior year. I tore my ACL and played the season without it. Had surgery and came back my senior year. In college, I red-shirted but wasn’t on the roster because I still had problems with my knee. I found out that I had re-torn my ACL at the end of year check up. After that, I decided that I would just finish my degree.”
While finishing his degree, Hill got into coaching players on an individual basis for quarterback, receiver, and secondary defenders. That’s where Hill cut his teeth instructing and drilling players. After finishing his degree, Hill took a job working in insurance, which provided ample opportunity to travel.
That travel eventually took him to Connecticut, where he met his wife, Carolyn. Hill was an assistant with the Old Saybrook-Westbrook football in 2013 and 2014. In 2015, Hill joined the Warriors as an assistant.
“Well, I work for AMICA and that gave me the chance to do a lot of traveling. I moved to Providence, Rhode Island, and after that I moved to Connecticut. My wife is the assistant principal at Valley, and funny story: Our first date was at Bill’s Seafood. I was on a two-year rotation for work, and I was scheduled to go to San Francisco,” says Hill, who lives in Clinton. “The second thing Carolyn said to me was that she’s never moving out of Clinton. Needless to say, I picked her over the job. From 2013 to 2014 I coached with OS-W, then I went to Valley in 2015, the year after they won.”
One of Hill’s biggest sources of pride is the relationships that he’s fostered through playing football. Hill made life-long friends with some of his teammates, as well as his opposition, while playing high school football, and he wants his players to understand how meaningful bonds like that can be.
“My proudest moment came senior year in the district semis, and my best friend at the time was the opposing team’s middle linebacker. I had my best friend on the field and another close friend at fullback just duking it out. I remember taking pictures with them after losing that game, and understanding that was literally the end of our high school careers,” says Hill. “To me, that exemplifies the high school athletic experience. We won conference championships. I got All-County and things like that, but those memories are meaningful because those relationships are still in tact. I don’t know where those awards are, but my best friend is still my best friend. He was in my wedding. That’s what I cherish the most.”
Hill knows that he’s stepping in as head coach at an unusual time after losing a whole season to the COVID-19 pandemic. It won’t be easy, but Hill believes that having the buy-in from players will make the upcoming season much smoother than it otherwise could under the circumstances.
“It’s going to be a challenge. It’s a very abnormal situation to find myself in as a first time head coach. Coming off COVID not having played football for two years, it is unprecedented. I’m looking forward to it,” says Hill. “It’s a bunch of different obstacles and things to juggle. We have to win the kids’ attention and win their hearts back. I told the coaches that we are in the business of hearts and minds. We have to get the community behind us. We have to be welcoming and approachable. That’s something I’m focused on as a head coach here.”
Hill’s experience as a coach comes more from the offensive side of the ball, but he knows that his staff has plenty of experience in all aspects of the game. Plus, being a good offensive mind means you have to be aware of potential defensive counters.
“I played quarterback for so many years and coached them for so long, so my background leans toward offense. As a quarterback, you need to be intimately involved and aware of defenses though. From that perspective, I look at defenses and where their weak points are,” Hill says. “As the head coach, I have to have the balanced approach toward things. I trust my guys to run their defense and offense, while I just have my hands in each part of the puzzle.”
Valley Regional Athletic Director Jeff Swan is ecstatic to have Hill step into the head coach’s position. There are just so many positives to the hire in Swan’s estimation.
“Hill for one thing has a huge football IQ. It’s off the charts. When he came on as a volunteer, I knew he would be in a paid position eventually. When he applied, I knew we wanted him here,” says Swan. “We’ve had only two head coaches since the ‘70s in Steve Woods and Tim King, and we want Hill to start his own legacy. He’s got some great ideas, and the football staff is excited to have him here. I’m excited, too. We’re all excited. He’s a teacher and an educator in district. It’s good to have him for the program.”
Hill has big plans for Warriors’ football, and he’s champing at the bit to get started this coming fall. Hill hopes the Valley-Old Lyme area is ready to climb aboard the hype train with him.
“We’re keeping the values that have been instilled in us by our previous head coaches. This program will have those same values and traits, but we’re bringing creativity, innovation, and energy to our football team and this community. It’s going to be something to see. Hopefully, everyone is excited to be a part our Warrior family, because we’re going to be putting on a show.”