The current Hillhouse juniors compiled an 8-2 record as freshmen, losing close games to Hand and Xavier freshman teams.
Matt Brehon and Anthony Godfrey starred in the backfield for the Academics on that freshman team. Godfrey has since transferred to West Haven, but Brehon is in the midst of a breakthrough season for the Hillhouse varsity. The 5-foot-8, 175 pound Brehon has rushed for 356 yards and four touchdowns.
Brehon is just one of many juniors making an impact for the unbeaten Academics (3-0), who hope to return to the state playoffs for the first time since winning the Class M title in 2012.
Hillhouse coach Reggie Lytle had high expectations for the group entering this season.
“We knew they were going to be special,” Lytle said. “We had great expectations. They’re blossoming at the right time.”
Lytle, now in his third season, has yet to post a winning record with the Academics. Hillhouse went 5-6 in Lytle’s first season in 2013 and 4-7 last season. The Academics won the state title the year before Lytle took over.
This season, Lytle has seen his club mature, and display a renewed commitment and intensity.
“They want to be a state champion,” Lytle said. “They came in with a great work ethic. They’re developing. They have a great work ethic and chemistry. These kids want it more. The attitude is different from last year.”
Ankle and groin injuries limited Brehon to just 40 carries for 264 yards and two touchdowns last season. Those injuries forced Brehon to miss five games.
Lytle compared Brehon to former Hillhouse stars Andre Anderson and Harold Cooper, who are now playing at the University of New Haven and the University of Rhode Island, respectively.
Brehon was inactive due to injury in the Academics latest victory over Lyman Hall last week, but he’s expected to be ready for Friday’s showdown at West Haven (2-1).
Brehon is not the only backfield option for Hillhouse. Juniors David Harris (23 carries, 345 yards, four touchdowns) and Shawn Ogarro (23-187-3) are equally as talented as Brehon.
Junior quarterback Damien Henderson (21 of 36 passing, 384 yards, four touchdowns) has done an effective job of directing the offense.
Henderson has a slew of receivers to distribute the ball to, including seniors Kishon Shields and Tyler Williams, junior C.J. Corbett (eight catches, 186 yards) and sophomore Chase Kinzly (7-106). Williams and Kinzly have each caught two touchdown passes.
The Academics have allowed just 26 points, although the teams they’ve played are a combined 1-7. Still, Lytle believed his defense would be improved this season.
“Everybody is rallying to the ball,” Lytle said. “The kids are hustling to the ball. Every game a different player has stood out. It’s been a team effort.”
Williams, a defensive end, leads the team with 24 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Senior Andre Wooten (15 tackles) and juniors Billy Oliver and Kyle Wilkins have anchored the defensive line. The Mallory brothers, Terrence, a senior, and Terron, a sophomore, lead the secondary.
West Haven will present Hillhouse with its first real challenge of the season. The teams meet for the first time since 1997. Godfrey is one of the Blue Devils’ leading rushers.
“It’s a game where there’s going to be a lot of speed,” Lytle said. “They have some fast running backs. It’s going to be a speed game. I love it (the match up). I think we match up very well with them. It’s going to come down to who executes the best.”