Hilton picks up another hat

Placer’s new baseball skipper teaches, coaches three sports and is a part-time police officer
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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If Placer High’s baseball players can keep up with their new coach, they will certainly be in great shape this spring. John Hilton will guide the Hillmen in 2011 after accepting the position earlier this fall. Hilton is no stranger to Placer athletics. He has coached football, softball, baseball and basketball at various levels since first arriving at Placer in 1995. He is coaching three sports again this year with the hope of taking Placer back to the postseason. The Hillmen reached great heights under coach Larry Prewitt, who resigned after last season according to athletic director Mark Lee. “Larry Prewitt, and Dave Thompson before that, did a great job building a successful program,” Hilton said. “I hope to step in and continue that – be very competitive and always be in the running for the (Pioneer Valley League) title. They won a section title just a couple years ago (2009) and that’s the ultimate goal for the program.” Hilton has mastered the time management part of the job. The father of four teaches P.E. and health at Placer. This fall he’s the linebackers coach for the Bear River football team. Beginning this month he’ll be on the sidelines as an assistant coach with Mark Lee’s Placer basketball team. Hilton’s weekends aren’t exactly kickback. He is a reserve deputy for Sutter County and patrols at least one night each weekend. When he was attending Sacramento State – where he was a defensive back for coach Bob Mattos’ football team – Hilton was headed toward a career in law enforcement. All that changed when he got his first taste of coaching. “Going through school I intended to be a police officer,” he said. “Right after I graduated I decided to coach a little bit and I passed the test for teaching and decided to do that.” About 10 years ago, Hilton went on a ride-a-long with the Roseville Police and that fueled his passion for law. He trained nights and weekends to get through the police academy and landed a part-time job with Sutter County. But Hilton insists he’s still a teacher and coach first. “I just enjoy it too much to leave,” Hilton said. A graduate of Ukiah High, Hilton played football, basketball and baseball. He’s coached baseball and softball for many years since then, including a time as Placer’s junior varsity coach. Thompson plans to return to the Placer dugout as an assistant under Hilton. “I feel very fortunate to have (Dave) Thompson helping me out,” Hilton said. “He has a very good offensive mind.” Josh Morton, a longtime Sierra College assistant coach, will help out with the Placer pitchers. Hilton said his strengths are teaching defensive fundamentals, baserunning and organizing the team. Lee said he’s happy to have Hilton guiding the baseball team, which will bring back a solid nucleus from last year’s team that finished 13-8-1 overall. “Whatever sport he coaches, he does an excellent job preparing,” Lee said. “He’s great with kids. They love to play for him. He’ll do a great job running the program.” Placer will return junior standouts Michael Reale, Ryan Mason and sophomore Eddie Vanderdoes next spring along with seniors Evan Staton, Paul Bandanza, Nick Mitchell, Steven Cox and Ryan Ballardo. The Hillmen did not field a fall league team due to Hilton’s late hiring, but the new coach is confident his team will be ready to go when practices begin Feb. 7. “We have a good group of kids who are excited about playing,” Hilton said. “I think we’re capable of having a lot of success if we are doing the right things.”