COACH — REGGIE LYTLE (7th year, 39-26)
CONFERENCE — SCC Tier II
PLAYOFF CLASS — L (550 boys enrollment)
HOME — Bowen Field, New Haven
2018 RECORD — 4-6
2019 OPENER — Sept. 13 at Cheshire, 7 p.m.
TEAM WEBSITES — Maxpreps
Neal Eley, RB/DB; Willie Gulley, RB/DB; Albert Ongiovi, OL/LB; Ezakah Artis, OL/DL
In a way, Hillhouse’s 2019 season started halfway through 2018.
Sitting at 0-5, it was clear the 2018 season wasn’t going to work out for Hillhouse. So at around midseason, especially when some unexpected departures hit the Academics, coach Reggie Lytle started “the transition.”
In other words, it was time to dig into the roster, mix things up and see about the future.
As it turned out, the transitional roster performed much better than the starting one. Beginning with a 26-7 win over New London, Hillhouse won four out of its last five games to salvage a 4-6 season.
Now, many of those starters — eight on both sides of the ball — return to help the Academics recapture the mojo lost in the years since winning the school’s last state title in 2016.
“It’s going to be exciting,” Lytle said. “I woke up Monday and had a good feeling. I started texting the guys and I told them I wish I could suit up and play. I’m ready to go.”
Chief among the players who developed in last year’s transition is returning quarterback Demelle Fuller, a junior converted receiver who was thrown behind center and threw for over 500 yards and four TDs in six games while running for another 167 yards and two scores.
Now he’s entrenched as the full-time starter. “He’s a kid that you just can’t leave by himself sitting in the pocket, he’ll take off on you,” Lytle said. “He’s an athlete you’ll have to cover along with our receivers.”
As always, Hillhouse has plenty of those. There are four of them — all over 6-feet, Lytle said — with typical Hillhouse speed to burn defenders deep or in the open field. “They can go up and get the ball,” the coach said. “They all have good speed, run track, play basketball…”
Hillhouse graduated 1,000-yard rusher Neal Ely. This season, Lytle said it’ll be running back “by committee,” with senior Greg Chambers, TreRonn Bryant and sophomore Frank Dainley.
“They all bring something a little different,” Lytle said. “TreRonn brings speed. Dainley’s got the little shifty moves and has got some burners. Chambers, he’s going to wear you down.
“Whoever has the hot feet that night is going to see the majority of the ball.”
Hillhouse also returns three of five starters on the offensive line, all with typical Hillhouse size. Seniors Omar Henry, a 5-11, 240-pound tackle Lytle said “will open some eyes,” and Josiah Artis, a 6-3, 285-pound guard and center, figure to be the focal point of Hillhouse’s attack. “I think we’re going to do well up front,” Lytle said.
On defense, those same players will anchor the defensive tackle positions. Chambers (109 tackles) and Kinard Fuller (82), who were 1-2 as Hillhouse’s leading tacklers last year, return on the defensive ends. The two also combined for six sacks last year. Bryant (41 tackles) and Cory Wallace will bolster Hillhouse’s linebackers.
The secondary should be improved with Turone Kelly — “a kid who’ll come downhill and hit you,” Lytle said — surveying the scene at safety and Jayin Boyd at cornerback. Sophomore Gary Moore Jr., a 6-foot-2, 195-pound state champion thrower and the son of Hillhouse track coach Gary Moore, gives the Academics a potential weapon, not just at tight end, but also in the secondary.
“Usually my corners are a little small,” Lytle said. “These guys have some height.”
To be sure, Hillhouse still is a ways off. There aren’t many juniors, but Lytle loves his budding sophomore class and he’s expecting the seniors to lead the way
The schedule won’t do the Academics any favors. They kick off vs. Cheshire at the Maclary Complex on Friday night, then face a strong Weston squad in Week 2 before facing defending Class S champion Bloomfield. Later, Hillhouse must face Sheehan and West Haven.
But Lytle says there’s a better attitude among his returning players, and he hopes that leads to more victories. “These kids want to be here,” he said. “They’ve put in a lot of work.”
Hillhouse will dedicate this season to former coaches Melvin Wells and Lynwood Branham, who both died this past year.
Sept. 13 — at Cheshire,** 7 p.m.
Sept. 20 — Weston, 7 p.m.
Sept. 27 — at Bloomfield, 7 p.m.
Oct. 11 — Harding,** 7 p.m.
Oct. 18 — at Stratford, 7 p.m.
Oct. 25 — Amity,** 7 p.m.
Nov. 1 — Sheehan,** 7 p.m.
Nov. 8 — at West Haven,* 7 p.m.
Nov. 15 — at Foran,* 7 p.m.
Nov. 28 — Wilbur Cross,** 10:30 a.m.