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Hilfiker spends summer with Bolts

October 04, 2001|By CHRIS GRANT, Sports Editor

HOLTVILLE — For former Holtville High School football player Jeremy Hilfiker, this summer could aptly be termed a walk in the clouds.

While many people his age spent August getting geared up for college, the 19-year-old Hilfiker spent the time as a manager at the San Diego Chargers preseason camp in La Jolla.

"This was a dream come true," said Hilfiker, a freshman at Grossmont College in El Cajon. "I've grown up watching those guys and to actually meet and talk to them, it was like I was dreaming."

Hilfiker got the chance to work for the Chargers because of Viking football coach Jim Sturgeon's connections with Mike Riley. Sturgeon has known the Chargers' head man since he was coaching high school football in Texas and Riley was coaching the San Antonio Riders in the World Football League. The two continued their relationship as Sturgeon moved to coach high school football in Oregon and Riley became the head coach at Oregon State.

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"Mike's the best guy," said Sturgeon. "I told him about Jeremy and he told me to see (Bob Wicks, Chargers' equipment chief)."

"It was awesome," said Hilfiker, whose title was equipment manager's assistant. "I helped with the shoulder pads and giving the players jerseys. Anything they needed, I did it."

For Hilfiker the time with the Chargers was more than a job or a chance to hang out with the big boys. It was an opportunity to spend time with his boyhood heroes, to live out a dream.

"Growing up I was a Chargers' fan," he said. "After meeting Junior Seau and seeing those guys, I couldn't believe it."

Hilfiker spent most of his time helping with the defensive line. During his time at the camp he got the chance to not only meet but to get to know many of San Diego's players.

"Those guys are the funniest guys," he said of the defensive linemen. "John Parella, Raylee Johnson, if you get those two together it's a bunch of fun."

He said of Charger speedburner Tim Dwight, "He was a very nice guy."

Hilfiker not only got the chance to fraternize with the Chargers, he got the opportunity to travel with the team to its preseason game in Miami against the Dolphins.

"It was awesome," he said of landing in Miami. "We went behind the airport. We stayed at the hotel where ‘Caddyshack' and ‘Happy Gilmore' were filmed."

It was while the team was in Miami, at Pro Player Stadium to be exact, that Hilfiker had a run-in with an old Cowboy.

"Jimmy Johnson was there," Hilfiker said of a chance encounter with the former Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins coach in Miami. "For a second he thought I was a coach and I got to talk to him. He was really nice. He wore a big old ring."

Meeting Johnson wasn't even the biggest thrill of Hilfiker's time in Miami. That honor goes to when he walked onto the field.

"It was awesome going under the stadium and then onto the field," he said.

Hilfiker rates his favorite moment with the Chargers as what ultimately was one of his last moments, the team's preseason game with the Rams.

"Being there for that last game with everything coming to an end …" he said. "The game went into overtime and that was the best time. But when I look back, every moment was a blast."

Hilfiker, who played kicker and wide receiver on the Viking varsity squad for two years, is helping to coach his former teammates at Holtville High. He hopes to one day be an NFL coach or scout and the connections he made this summer at the Chargers camp could one day become useful.

"I talked to (Chargers general manager) John Butler and told him I wanted to be a coach," Hilfiker said. "He told me to start at high school and work my way up. Hopefully, 10 to 12 years from now I'll be a pro coach or scout.

"I've always wanted to be a coach. This is the only game I love watching. It's a man's sport and walking onto the field before each Chargers' game was very special."

Hilfiker hopes this year's work might lead to something more permanent next season.

"I get first shot at coming back," he said of next year's training camp.

For now he will content himself with helping Holtville's players and coaches, one of whom has noticed quite a change in his former player.

"From the parking lot to the middle of the football field, I don't think his feet touched the ground," said Sturgeon.

Which should surprise no one. After all, Hilfiker had spent his summer working in the stars.

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