Hillhouse coach Reggie Lytle has a problem: the good kind of problem, one that most coaches would be envious of.
The Academics return virtually every skill player from a team that finished 8-2 last season and just missed out on qualifying for the Class L state playoffs. Hillhouse moves down to Class M this year and has to be considered one of the favorites to win the title in that class.
According to Lytle, giving equal playing time to his standouts shouldn’t be an issue. It was a topic of discussion in the off-season.
“It’s one ball,” Lytle said. “I brought them in and they all have a good understanding. Over the summer they all text each other and everyone has a common goal of winning. It’s a team effort, and we share the same common goal. I think they accepted their roles. It’s a beautiful thing because, as a coach, that’s what you want. You want the kids to understand their role, for everyone to get along and know they have a job to do.”
Hillhouse returns its entire backfield, which consists of senior quarterback Damien Henderson and senior running backs Matt Brehon and David Harris and senior fullback Shawn Ogarro.
Brehon led the team with 113 carries for 1,051 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. Harris added 816 yards and 12 touchdowns on 83 carries, while Ogarro rushed 75 times for 759 yards and nine touchdowns.
“We have three different types of running backs that any coach would love to have on a given day,” Lytle said. “Shawn is more power, David is more of a quick slasher and Brehon is a combination of the both of them. They all have different styles.”
Harris, a captain, doesn’t mind sharing the workload with his backfield mates.
“I love it,” Harris said. “I love having extra teammates behind me. We all help each other, it’s like thunder and lightning. I could score two, he could score three. It doesn’t matter, as long as we get the win, I am happy.”
While the running back corps will be the team’s strength, Lytle is confident with other aspects of the offense.
“I don’t want to discredit my receivers,” Lytle said. “Each one of my receivers is 6 feet or over. They can run, catch, jump. They can do other things that are positive. We’re not going to be just a one-dimensional team. It’s going to be interesting. From week-to-week things are going to change depending on who we play.”
Senior C.J. Corbett (6-2, 175) and junior Chase Kinzly (6-3, 170) are the Academics’ top two returning receivers.
“He (Kinzly) is getting some looks at some Division I schools,” Lytle said. “These guys are legitimate Division I receivers.”
Senior Damien Henderson returns for his second season at quarterback. Henderson tossed for 1,156 yards and 13 touchdowns as a junior.
“He’s gotten a little taller, which is a plus,” Lytle said. “He’s a very smart kid. His arm got stronger, he’s been in the weight room. He’s bigger and stronger that last season.”
The one potential weak spot on offense is the line. Senior Billy Oliver, a captain, will once again anchor that unit.
“Especially since last year, we built up the line and we try to have it as a dominant force,” Oliver said. “Through the O-line everything happens. You can have great running backs, great quarterbacks, but it all starts up front. We think we’re going to have a pretty good line.”
The Academics open their season on Sept. 9 against Creed/Career/Whitney Tech, formerly known as Hyde, which moves from the Pequot to the SCC this season. It’s the first time the two programs will meet in football. The contest will kickoff at 7 p.m. at newly refurbished Bowen Field. Hillhouse defeated Wilbur Cross last Thanksgiving day in the first game played at Bowen Field since 2012.
“It’s going to be a good game,” Oliver said. “We’re just going to work for it all the way up to then.”