By Ray Hamill — Former McKinleyville and Humboldt State lineman Dakota Bill is preparing to play for a sixth different head coach in six years this fall, a transition that has not been helped with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Not since Bill’s junior year at Mack High has he begun a season with the same head coach as the previous year, but that doesn’t mean he’s not excited about this year’s change.
Bill, who was a freshmen on the last Humboldt State football team in 2018, has found a new home for himself since then after transferring to Black Hills State in South Dakota, where he is loving life as a Yellowjacket.
The red-shirt sophomore is back home in McKinleyville these days, finishing his semester online, and that hasn’t helped with the transition to another new head coach, with Josh Breske taking over the reins.
“It’s been pretty crazy,” Bill said of the transition. “We’ve got a brand new coaching staff and they were looking forward to working with us and seeing what everyone can do, and then things go crazy.”
Bill, however, sees the change as a good thing and can already see a big difference in the culture within the Division-II program.
“So far they’ve been great,” he said of the coaches. “And I’m definitely looking forward to next season.”
Bill was recruited by the Yellowjackets at a showcase event for the Humboldt State players at the end of the 2018 season, after the program was cut.
“I was talking with Black Hills State and a couple of other schools, and it seemed they were more interested in me,” he said. “I went and visited and I loved it out there. It was awesome.”
It was not a change, however, he was looking for at the time, and the local standout still feels the disappointment of HSU’s decision to get rid of football, which had been played at the school for close to a century.
“It was tough,” Bill said. “I loved playing at Humboldt State. Just the atmosphere there, and it’s a great school and a great program. It was definitely really sad.”
He joined the Jacks out of high school at head coach Rob Smith’s urging, red-shirting his first season there.
Bill, who played alongside Smith’s son Jared at Mack High, considered plenty of top options out of high school, including UC Davis, Cal Poly and the University of Montana.
In the end, he choose to stay close to home after receiving a scholarship to play for the Jacks.
“Coach Smith told me to come out for an official visit and he said he would love to have me play for Humboldt State,” Bill said. “And I already knew I liked the school and everything.”
The former Panther added that playing for such a small program like McKinleyville, which had just 15 players in one of his three years playing varsity, helped prepare him for college.
“That was crazy, but it was definitely a good learning experience,” he said. “And it was kind of humbling.
“We played both ways. We played the whole game, and when you go to college and only focus on one position it opens your eyes. It’s kind of crazy how much goes into the game.”
At Black Hills State, Bill still runs into several of his former HSU teammates who are now scattered all across the collegiate landscape, including some who play in the same Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference as the Yellowjackets.
“I’d say almost every team (in conference) has at least one player I played with at Humboldt,” said Bill, who switched from the offensive line to defensive line at the new school. “It’s kind of cool to see them after games.”
After Black Hills State finished 3-8 last year, Bill is confident the new coaches will have an immediate impact and says he’s looking forward to getting back out on the field.
“I’m just excited to go out there and run the new stuff with the new coaches,” he said. “We have a really young team both ways, and it will be exciting to see what the new coaches can do with these players.”
For much of last season Bill had to battle a leg injury suffered during spring ball in 2019 and missed out on a few games.
Upon his return, however, he quickly re-established himself as a pivotal part of the team’s defense, and says he is now back fully healthy again, another reason he’s excited about the upcoming season.
Bill, who is an Environmental Physical Science major, was also named to the RMAC All-Academic Honor Roll for the fall semester.