At a time when football coaches were beginning to limit athletes to playing either on offense or defense, Jerry Hillis excelled on both sides of the line of scrimmage. A linebacker on defense and end on offense, Hillis was a four-year starter from 1957 through 1960, when he earned a host of regional and national honors. In his final three seasons, Hillis received Honorable Mention Little All-America recognition from the Associated Press, as well as All-Northwest and All-Northwest Conference honors. As a junior and senior, when he served as the Whitman captain, Hillis was the only athlete named to the all-conference team on both offense and defense. As a senior, he was one of only two Northwest players named by the Associated Press to its All-West Coast Small College First Team.
By late in his sophomore season, when Whitman coach Robert Thomsen switched to playing two distinct sets of athletes, one on offense and one on defense, Hillis was the lone exception who continued to play both ways. As one newspaper columnist noted, Hillis was "great on offense, but astounding on defense." Game statistics often showed Hillis with as many as two dozen tackles. Following one game, a newspaper reporter simply credited him with making "virtually every other tackle."
While his defensive play was routinely described as spectacular and sensational, Hillis was also a potent weapon on offense. In his final two seasons, playing at a time when the passing attack was subordinate to the ground game, he nonetheless caught 50 passes for over 600 yards. He ranked among the conference leaders in pass receptions in both years. During his junior season, when Whitman posted a 5-3 record, Hillis keyed one victory with eight catches, one for a 24-yard touchdown. As a senior, when Whitman struggled with injuries and illness, the 6-foot, 195-pound Hillis continued to put his versatility to good use. He made four fumble recoveries in one game, caught six passes in another, and substituted at running back in a third, rushing 26 times for 81 yards and a touchdown.
Hillis, who also lettered twice in track & field as a quarter miler, capped his athletic career by winning the first Northwest Conference Student Athlete Trophy. He was one of four athletes from around the conference nominated for the award, which recognized academic achievement and campus activities as well as athletic accomplishments. A political science major, Hillis served as president of the Whitman Political Union, competed in varsity debate, and was a member of a Pi Kappa Delta, a national forensics honorary. He twice received the Royal F. Niles Trophy as Whitman's most outstanding and inspirational football player, and was a co-winner of the Borleske Trophy, given to the most outstanding senior athlete.
Following his graduation, Hillis remained at Whitman for two years, revitalizing the Alumni Office as its director. He also served as an assistant football coach for one season. A graduate of Edmonds (Wash.) High School, Hillis returned to the Seattle area to enroll at the University of Washington Law School, where he completed his law degree in 1966. As a senior partner in his own law firm, he quickly became a nationally recognized authority on land use, environmental and real estate law. He served on the Washington State Land Planning Commission and chaired the King County Planning Committee.
Hillis has remained a staunch supporter of Whitman throughout his adult life. He served on the Board of Trustees for 20 years, including one stint as its chair. He became the first person in college history to have served as alumni director and on all three of the college governing boards. Hillis is the father of three children, two of whom are Whitman graduates.Back to main news release