BEAVERTON, Ore. — The colors were different, making the teams look like competing Power Rangers, but nearly all the players at Nike’s The Opening wore the same lightweight helmets, sleeveless padded vests and tights.
Only one broke ranks — IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) defensive back Bookie Radley-Hiles, who wore baggy gray sweats from the waist down, looking like the guy who walks onto the basketball court with no shirt and a pair of jeans.
“I kind of am never like everybody else,” Radley-Hiles said. “I’ve always separated myself from everybody else in a different type of way. I just kept my sweats on. It wasn’t to be different. I warmed up in them and then I forgot that I had them on.”
That’s Radley-Hiles, a natural-born leader because he’s never going to follow someone else.
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When Radley-Hiles, a Nebraska commit, hauled in an interception Sunday during the Untouchable’s first 7-on-7 win, his teammates surrounded him. Afterward, he was the player little kids wanted an autograph from. Ask the players such as American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.) defensive back Patrick Surtain II or Harrison (Mich.) linebacker Ovie Oghoufo whom they would start with in pickup football and Radley-Hiles’ name comes up.
There’s plenty of talent in his extended family, including two former NFL wide receivers in Curtis Conway and Jason Mitchell, and an older brother, Lucky Radley, who played running back for Utah and San Diego State. Radley-Hiles wears No. 44 to honor another brother, Brandon Webb, a former player for Serra (Gardena, Calif.) who was was killed in a drive-by shooting in 1995, four years before Bookie was born.
“What keeps me motivated?” Radley-Hiles said, pointing to a chain with a gold No. 44 around his neck. “This number right here on my arm and my chain. It’s bigger than football and it’s bigger than me. I represent for my brothers and my whole entire family.”
He will be at his third high school this fall, but wherever he has gone, the team has won. Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) went 30-0 when he was a freshman and sophomore and won the Super 25 titles. Last year, he transferred to Calabasas (Calif.) and was named the Camino League’s Co-Defensive Back of the Year as the Coyotes were 14-1. This past winter, he transferred to IMG and made an impact in spring drills.
“He is a tremendous athlete but best attribute is he is one of the most competitive kids I’ve ever met,” IMG coach Kevin Wright said via text. “(He) would play every down on both sides if we let him. The other kids do love him. He has that “it factor” and he backs it up with how hard he works and how hard he practices daily.”
His mushroom-cloud hair makes him look taller, but Radley-Hiles is only 5-8 and 175 pounds. Still, he has the swagger of a much larger player.
“He’s always been a leader by nature,” said his brother, Bub Webb. “I’ve coached him from six years up to the eighth grade. He’s always been the team captain, just a natural leader. It was team-nominated, something he’s picked up along the way, nothing I can take credit for.”
While he hits hard, there’s also a soft side to Radley-Hiles that endears him to other players. When he attended a combine this past winter at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, he went shopping for U.S. Army football gear with a former Bishop Gorman teammate, linebacker Palaie Gaoteote.
“Palaie forgot to take any money with him and when he came back, he had all this gear,” said Gaoteote’s father. “I asked him where he got it and he said that Bookie bought it for him. Bookie didn’t want him to feel bad.”