Jacob Hille showed Phillipsburg football fans just what they’d been missing right off the bat this fall.
First offensive drive of the season, Hille catches a 7-yard touchdown pass. First game of the season, picked as defensive player of the game. Second game, chosen as special teams player of the game. As a co-captain, Hille’s a big reason the Stateliners are off to a 2-0 start.
Comeback player of the year next?
“Scoring on the first drive, it really was special,” said the 6-foot-1, 215-pound P’burg senior. “It was everything that I wished for for the start of the season to be. It was a great way to start off the year.”
As the Stateliners (2-0, 2-0 conference) prepare to host Hillsborough (1-1, 1-1) in a Big Central Conference Division 4 game Saturday (6 p.m.) in the home opener at Maloney Stadium, Hills wants to continue the roll he is on.
Hille, who plays H-back and linebacker, had missed the entire 2019 season, his junior campaign, recovering from an ACL tear he suffered in his sophomore lacrosse season on a routine play going for a ball in his midfielder role.
He’d not wear the garnet and gray again for over a year. It made for a very long time to be sidelined for an athlete who’d been playing football since second grade in Lopatcong Township.
“I was pretty upset not to be able play football as a junior,” Hille said. “It was really tough, missing the first game against Warren Hills, and the toughest game was the (two-overtime win over Ridge). Those are the moments you live for as a football player. But that only motivated me to have a great season as a senior.”
So far, so good.
“It’s been great to see Jacob play so well,” Phillipsburg head coach Frank Duffy said. “He has waited a long time after his injury and has worked very hard so I know we were all happy.”
Hille approached his return carefully.
“I wanted to take my time with my recovery,” he said. “I had physical therapy, and then I was in the weight room every single day. I wanted to put on good weight and get faster.”
Hille has achieved both. He’s considerably bulked from the 175 or so pounds he weighed as a sophomore, and his speed has improved -- no easy task.
“I think I have shaved 2/10 of a second off my 40-yard dash time, doing a lot of 5-10-5 sprints,” he said. “I have been doing a lot of speed work, every single day through the quarantine. I was running hills in my speed and agility training. I was working my sprints and cutting. I’d run up the hill at the high school and jog back down backwards.”
That kind of work ethic and intensity got him chosen as a team co-captain.
“I was pretty excited,” Hille said. “Being around the team for a while, I had made a lot of great relationships. I was happy to be selected as one of the team leaders and take that responsibility.”
Hille had some good examples to follow.
“I grew up around the Coury brothers (2019 P’burg graduates Bobby and Tommy) and I know their work ethic and the work they put in. They were role models for me as persons and football players. You can see the legacy they had -- even after they have left, they’re still mentioned in all the articles.”
Like the Courys, Hille likes to be a) around the ball and b) hitting people. So, he plays the perfect spot on offense.
“H-back is the best of both worlds, between an old-school fullback and a tight end,” Hille said. “You’re pretty much involved in both aspects of the offense and you have a big responsibility in the running game. I love the position, I have been playing it since freshman year with (Matt) Quetel as a tailback. I love that you get to block and catch.”
Duffy said Hille is the perfect fit.
“Jacob has a unique blend of toughness, running ability, and hands that you are looking for as a fullback/(H) back,” he said.
Hille said his comeback has been pretty solid, “though there’s still a lot of work to do,” he said. “I think I have been pretty natural at getting back into the passing game. In the running game, the biggest thing is blocking. There’s always room to improve at Phillipsburg.”
One aspect of the Stateliner offense that Hille loves is working with senior quarterback Matt Garatty.
“I have been playing football with Matt since we both started playing, and he is just a playmaker,” Hille said. “He’s always extending plays and challenging the defense. Against Hunterdon Central, he faked out a defensive end and made an underhand shuffle pass to me. I was ready to give up on the play. Matt always has had confidence in himself and his ability.”
Hille said his defensive efforts weren’t quite what he wanted at first, but he does have 13 tackles so far this season.
“I was a lot more natural in the second half (of the opener at Hunterdon Central),” he said. “I thought I improved a lot, after I had had to adjust in the first half.”
Another adjustment has been playing without the usual fiery Phillipsburg crowd behind the team, which may be especially notable Saturday night in the home opener.
“We have to bring our own excitement,” Hille said. “Once you get out there playing, you don’t really notice it. You zone out everything that happens; once you’re on the field it’s 11 guys versus 11 guys. That’s why I love football; it’s just like a brotherhood, out there with your brothers having fun.”
Hille may well get the chance to find a new gridiron brotherhood post-Phillipsburg. He’s attracting collegiate recruiters, and with courses like AP Physics on his resume -- “I am a math and science guy,” he said -- some of it is from Ivy and Patriot League level.
Duffy has no doubt of Hille’s future success.
“He’s matured beyond the years,” Duffy said.
Matured right into a key role on Phillipsburg’s unbeaten football team, for now.
Brad Wilson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.