PENNSBURG >> There’s no denying it.
The 2016 Hill School football team knows how to make its presence felt.
You could feel them coming in the distance as the Blues’ team bus pulled up in front of the Perkiomen School football field on Monday, Aug. 29.
“I wonder who that could be,” uttered a Perkiomen School player while eying the players getting off the bus prior to the two team’s joint practice.
They arrived … and they brought the noise.
The noise echoed off the Perkiomen School building in the distance when running back Deyon Donaldson popped a Perk defender later during 7-on-7s.
The same building echoed the voice of first-year Hill School head coach Jeff Hollway as he called out to his players throughout the practice, reminding his players what was only 12 days in the distance.
The same players followed up Donaldson’s jarring hit with plenty of cheers from the sidelines and on the field.
“I’ve played linebacker most of my career,” said Donaldson, a fifth-former from Eastern Christian Academy (Baltimore, Md.). “I’m trying to bring that defensive mindset with me in the backfield if that’s where I’m needed. I love hitting.”
The moment served as a tribute to the mentality Hollway hopes the team brings with it onto the playing field this season.
“I love what I’m seeing from this team already,” he said after the joint practice concluded. “These guys, they bring the energy with them. They have fun, but they also understand how to play hard and play as a team.
“I know they’re itching to get this season started.”
The Hill will open its season at home on Sept. 10 against Wyoming Seminary, a team Hollway built from the ground up and coached the past three seasons.
Though he’ll play host to his former team, there’s something about The Hill that makes him feel right at home already.
“This group has so much fun together,” he said. “A lot of these kids barely knew each other a week ago. Now, they look like they’ve been teammates for years. That’s really special to see.”
Prior to his time at Wyoming Seminary, Hollway coached at Green Hill School in Dallas, Texas.
Similar to his coach, Donaldson refers to the Blues team as a brotherhood.
“I love everything about being here so far,” he said. “We’re a band of brothers already.”
Rising sophomore Syre Gruber will take over as starting quarterback for Clayton Oliver (now at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College). Last season, Gruber racked up four total touchdowns to four interceptions while filling in for Oliver.
“He’s a great all-around athlete,” said Hollway. “We’ve got really high expectations for him. You can see it already — he’s smart with the football in his hands and has a great arm.”
That arm was evidenced several times during practice last week, especially when Gruber connected deep with three separate receivers on three consecutive plays against the Panthers’ secondary.
Name of The Game
The Blues will have plenty of names to keep an eye out for.
Among them will be linebacker/running back Pete Boone, defensive tackle Khalif Jeter, free safety/wide receiver Hakim Coles and lineman Will McCarter.
“We’ve got a great mix of guys returning as well as new talent coming in,” said Hollway. “Our nucleus will be strong, we’ve just got to continue molding and gelling as we get ready for the season.”
Quote of The Day
“The eye in the sky don’t lie,” said Hollway pointing to the tower above the field where he was filming practice.
What Could Hold The Hill Back?
Like any team, The Hill could be up against it when it comes to depth, especially at the skill positions.
Boasting a roster of just under 40 players, the Blues will have several players playing both ways.
“If we can stay healthy, we can certainly compete with anyone,” said Hollway. “If we don’t stay healthy, then we’ll have to find ways to plug holes in the dam.”