Without a doubt, Joe Hills is one of the best receivers in the Arena Football League. In 2016 alone, he led the league in catches (161), yards (2,020), and touchdowns (58). Despite all of the success, Hills knows what it’s like to have a target when wearing a certain uniform.
“I take offseasons very seriously, that’s where champions are made. I try to be better than I was last year. I don’t try to compete with the other guys, the battle is within. I go out and try to make the play whenever my number is called, and that results in the touchdowns. We look at it as if Tiger [Jones] scores, we all score. If London [Crawford] scores, we all score. If I score, we all score.”
Having spent time with both the Jacksonville Sharks and the Tampa Bay Storm throughout his five-year career, Hills has learned through the years what it’s like to play in front of a devoted, passionate fan base.
“Jacksonville and Tampa have two of the better fanbases. When I was down in Tampa, I used to hate coming to the Shark Tank. We knew [the fans] were gonna be rowdy and cheer loud for their team, and it was gonna be a factor. With Jacksonville, when I go down to Tampa, the fans are gonna let me have it., but afterwards, we’re still friends.”
With all of his individual accolades, including Offensive Player of the Year, the Sharks as a whole didn’t fare as well, finishing 7-9 in the regular season and losing in the semifinals to the Philadelphia Soul.
“We definitely came up short. As an individual, I played well, but it’s a team game. Individual awards are great, but to win the championship is what everyone wants. I would definitely trade all those [statistics] for a championship.”
Hills has done nothing but praise the offense as they worked throughout the season and playoffs, but he noted that what sank the team were third and fourth down, and the onside kicks against the Soul were the biggest blow.
“We can’t give a great team like Philly more opportunities than what they should have, and they did exactly what they were supposed to do. We didn’t score enough.”
The success and training led to Hills being selected second overall in the inaugural China Arena Football League draft. However, he decided not to make the trip for 2016.
“After the grind of the season, I had a few bumps and bruises that I’d thought I’d be over a little faster, and it didn’t work [out] that way. I’m still rehabbing and trying to get back to 100%, and I told [the CAFL] that I would give a heads up if I was more than 100%, and it didn’t work out that way. I definitely gave them a heads up so another guy who was deserving an opportunity could get my spot. I wasn’t healthy when it was time to leave, so I decided not to go half-hurt and make things worse and not give 100% of Joe Hills.”
Although the Dalian Dragon Kings struggled to finish in last place without him, both Hills and the CAFL as a league are optimistic about the 2017 season.
“I followed some of those guys over there, and they looked like they were having fun. I got jealous sometimes, but you only get one body, so you have to take care of it as much as you can. In 2017, I’ll be out there working harder than ever to stay on top.”
Although the Sharks have left for the National Arena League, any team that signs Hills will truly add a boost to their squad.
“I’m a free agent this year, I don’t really know where I’ll end up at. You never know how things go in the offseason in the arena. I’ll figure out all that when it comes.”