NORTH EASTON, Mass. -- Some leftover notes from today's Under Armour Northeast 7-on-7 South Regional tournament, from the campus of Oliver Ames High School:
Hill recovering well, favoring UConn: It's been a long recovery for Mansfield two-sport star Brendan Hill, who's been reduced to gritting his teeth in frustration on the sidelines for most of the last nine months.
The 6-foot-5 Hill was an ESPN Boston All-State selection last fall for the Hornets, who captured the inaugural MIAA Division 2 State Championship at Gillette Stadium. But the tight end didn't play a snap in that game; a week and a half prior, he tore up his knee in the Hornets' Thanksgiving contest with archrival Foxborough.
Where his impact might have most been felt was on the hardwood. Hill was named MVP of the Hockomock League as a sophomore in 2012-13, and also an ESPN Boston All-Stater, as the Hornets reached the Division 1 State Final for the first time in school history. He missed his entire junior season this winter as the Hornets, a preseason favorite, fell to Catholic Memorial in a triple-overtime D1 South semifinal that was regarded as one of the state's most thrilling playoff games in years.
The good news is Hill appears to be on schedule. He was cleared to make cuts and other conditioning-related moves this summer, though he was held out of today's action. He goes back to the doctors for re-evaluation next month, and says he anticipates being cleared for contact.
"I feel perfect right now, I’d be surprised if it was anything else," Hill said.
The recruitment for Hill hasn't simmered. If anything, it's picked up. In addition to UMass and UConn, a slew of Division 1 FCS schools have extended an offer, among them New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Holy Cross, Coastal Carolina, Lafayette, Monmouth, Colgate and Villanova.
Hill says he currently favors UConn, though he says he doesn't have any timetable yet on when he'll make a commitment, or when he'll make visits.
Each school is offering Hill as a tight end, though UConn has said they may also try him at outside linebacker. Hill pulled double-duty at defensive end last fall, registering 7.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.
"Their facilities are really great. I went and visited a couple weeks ago and their staff was awesome," Hill said of UConn. "Just talking to the different coaches . . . I really like [head coach Bob] Diaco too. It seems like he has a great program, great philosophy, I really like his philosophy. When I went on the visit, everything was great. It’s definitely my No. 1, but a lot of other schools have told me they want to wait and see how I do this fall."
Hill operated mostly as a "move" tight end last season, creating mismatches in the slot or opposite strength of the formation, for some big gains. He led the Hornets in every major receiving statistic last season, catching 53 passes for 811 yards and 10 touchdowns. With a number of talented skill players graduated from a year ago -- including quarterback Kyle Wisnieski, running back Miguel Villar-Perez, and UNH walk-on receiver Mike Hershman -- Hill hinted that he may play a little more in-line this season.
Either way, it's good to be back. There appears to finally be an end in sight to the long-drawn frustrations.
"That was obviously some of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do," Hill said. "But I think at the end of the day it made me a better person. I learned a lot throughout the whole process and stuff like that, so as tough as it was I just can’t wait to get back at it. It’s a lot more motivation."
Merit-ing attention: In our summer football preview last week, we discussed the wide cornucopia of skill sets from this year's crop of running backs, from the bullish to the diminutive to the slippery. Another name to keep an eye on is Pope John Paul II tailback Diego Meritus, who looks like he's put on some more muscle after a dedicated offseason.
The 5-foot-11, 200-pound Meritus looked solid at middle linebacker today as the Lions advanced to the round of 16. A number of schools from each level of college football have taken interest in the Yarmouth resident's services, from Division 1 (Brown, Harvard, Dartmouth, New Hampshire) to Division 2 (Stonehill, St. Anselm) to the traditional local NESCAC schools that dot Division 3.
With his powerful frame, Meritus proved tough to tangle with on inside runs last fall. But he also flashed some finesse at outside zone plays, accelerating quickly to the edge to stretch the defense and exploit an over-pursuit.
The Lions are licking their chops after a frustrating end to the 2013 season. Despite having the fourth-best power ranking in Division 6 South, they failed to get one of the district's eight playoff spots by virtue of league automatic qualifiers awarded other member schools. As a result the Lions -- who finished third in their league, the Catholic Central Small, disqualifying them from an automatic bid -- were one of just two teams in Eastern Mass. not to make a postseason tournament despite posting a record above .500 during the regular season.
"We feel like we have a lot to prove," Meritus said. "We want to show the MIAA that we should have been in the state tournament last year."
If they are to get their vengeance, it will be behind Mertius and quarterback Ryan Barabe, a potential Division 2 prospect who demonstrates above-average arm strength and a quick release.
"I’ve known him pretty much my whole life,' Meritus said of Barabe. "I mean, he’s such a great quarterback, and one of my best friends off the field. He can go anywhere. He’s a great quarterback."