Hillmen fever is an affliction Auburn enjoys

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The 2009 Placer Hillmen football team has returned the fever to LeFebvre stadium. And all over town, there is a buzz of positive energy. Tonight, during a potentially thunderous downpour, Placer High hopes to ignite a storm of its own while facing Foothill in the first round of Sac-Joaquin Section playoff action. It’s hard to know and maybe doesn’t matter whether the young men wearing green and gold realize what a historic occasion this is. Placer, once a perennial powerhouse, has not played host to a playoff game since 1980. And residents, along with students, are fired up for the Hillmen. Tom Lopiccolo, who runs Auburn’s Les Schwab tire store, is one local businessman who bleeds green and gold. As a linebacker on the 1979 team, he has long felt Hillmen pride both on and off the field. Lopiccolo said many who come into his tire store are fired up for Placer as well. “In these tough economic times, a successful sports team is a breath of fresh air,” Lopiccolo said. “It drives people to local community events, and gives you a sense of community. It’s nice.” Lopiccolo said there are a lot of guys like him, who have chosen to stay in or return to Auburn to raise their own families. In that way the Hillmen tradition is carried on through generations. Local attorney Sandy Amara agrees. You can see Sandy and her husband Dirk at almost every Hillmen home game. She, too, graduated from Placer, returned to Auburn after college and has chosen to raise her family here. She has four kids who have gone through Placer, the youngest of whom is a senior this year. “This is very exciting,” Amara said of Placer’s 9-1 record and impending run in the playoffs. “There is a buzz out on the street. People are talking about Placer sports from the girls volleyball champs to the boys running team.” Families like the Amaras and Lopiccolos support the Placer High Hillmen year in and year out, win or lose. But this has been a fun year on the gridiron, and more and more people are enjoying the team’s success. “You don’t have to be a football supporter to enjoy it,” Lopiccolo said. It’s a great feeling for the community. Head coach Joey Montoya was born the year Placer last hosted a playoff game. But as the grandson of legendary Hillmen football coach Bill Miller, Montoya understood from an early age that football is more than a game played on the field. By inviting former players and coaches to come back, and recognizing the contributions of those Hillmen who came before, Montoya and his staff have rallied the community behind Placer. “The attendance is way up,” Amara said. “There is just a lot of excitement.” Yes, it’s a game and no, winning is not everything. Win or lose, this year’s team has captured the spirit and united much of Auburn behind the school. As Placer High game announcer Bob Burge is quick to point out: “In the best of times and the worst of times, it’s great to be a Hillman.” See you at the game.