Coming into high school, Wesley Hills thought he would do it his way. He’d been a successful multi-sport athlete on the youth level and expected to continue his dominance.
The 17-year-old soon realized that he would need to “work his butt off,” as he noted, to achieve the level of performance he knew he was capable of.
“I needed to get a lot stronger and faster,” he said. “I gained another 15 pounds this summer with a lot of working out and I still run a 4.4 in the 40.”
Last season the son of Wesley and Pamela Hills gained 1,294 yards with an average of nearly seven yards per tote. He had more than 2,000 all-purpose yards and 14 touchdowns. The offensive line returned all but one starter so between his efforts and the maturation of his teammates, Hills seemed primed for a big senior season.
In the opener he garnered 142 yards on 21 carries and one touchdown as the Warriors held off a tough Clayton squad, 16-8. Hills caught two passes for 10 yards and returned one kick for 23 more.
Week two resulted in a 36-0 demolition of Riverside. Hills galloped for 191 yards on 19 carries and crossed the goal line four times. He caught two passes for 31 yards and even threw a 32-yard TD.
Wildwood’s lone loss came in a high-scoring 47-28 affair with Pennsville in week three. Hills did what he could with 254 yards and two touchdowns on 25 attempts. He completed one of his three passes for 32 yards and returned two kicks for 26 yards.
The Warriors reached 3-1 last Friday night with a 61-34 rout of Maple Shade. Hills ripped off 18 runs for a ridiculous 452 yards and seven rushing touchdowns. He also caught a 37-yard TD from quarterback Devon Bradshaw.
Wildwood, which started the 2012 season with 21 athletes, is always concerned about health and depth. “We play ironman football,” said Hills, who also competes on the Warrior basketball team. “Even if we have 14 kids all 14 come to play. No excuses.”
Warrior coach Rich Hans sets the example for his players with his dedication to Wildwood athletics. Hans, who also guides the baseball program, says the greatest strength of his star back is acceleration.
“Usually it takes a long, lanky kid like that a while to get going, but Wesley has great explosion as well as top end speed,” said Hans of his 6-2, 210 pound star player. “It’s very rare to find both in a player with his size. His vision is incredible as well.”
Hills acknowledged that his vision, along with speed, was his most improved area. “I don’t think anybody thought I’d be as productive as I am now,” he said. “But I worked my butt off to get here. I put a lot of extra effort into it.”
Hills competes in track and field in the 100, 400, long jump and triple jump. He’s the Wildwood record holder in the triple and he’s tied for tops in the 400.
“Football is probably my favorite because I grew up playing it,” he said. “I enjoy the contact in the game. I enjoy hitting people.”
Hans especially appreciates the leadership Hills provides to his teammates. “He is full of fire, especially on game day,” said Hans. “He doesn’t yell at his teammates but he gets them fired up. All of the younger kids look up to him.”
Hills is one of three senior team captains along with Marchial Howell and Evan Thame. Bradshaw is a junior captain. Hans said the foursome is among the best leadership groups he’s had in a dozen years of coaching baseball and football at the school.
Hans and Hills both expressed appreciation for the efforts of the young, but veteran Warrior offensive line. “We have a very young line with three sophomores, a junior and just one senior,” said Hans. “They work very well together and we keep the schemes simple. They are big and strong kids and usually don’t have to maintain their blocks too long when Wesley gets around the corner.”
The offensive line includes Mikal Poteat, Rayquan Walker, Omar Cajigas, Josh Sanchez and Kahlil Gittings along with tight end Howell.
Hills is a physical runner blessed with size and speed. The combination of his attributes makes him a formidable adversary in the open field.
“He knows if he gets stuffed for a couple of series and he keeps pounding and running hard, he’ll break one and then thrive off of that confidence,” said Hans. “Once he gets into that zone it doesn’t matter how many guys the defense puts into the box. He is very strong and can run over defenders. He never takes the blow, he always gives it.”
Followers of Wildwood sports know the names of Billy Osborn and Randy Beverly, both outstanding athletes who achieved legendary greatness for Group 1 Warriors. Hans did not see them play but he realizes that if Hills can remain healthy, his name could be mentioned in the same conversation.
“He will be one of the top three players to ever come out of Wildwood,” said Hans. “I didn’t see Billy or Randy play but if Wesley stays healthy he has to be up there with guys like that.”
Hans is not surprised by the numbers and the success Hills has experienced this year. Over the summer Hans would simply peer out of his Byrne Wildwood Community Center office and see one solitary figure, Hills, darting between cones and sweating through endless drills to increase speed, balance and flexibility.
“I don’t think any back in Wildwood’s history has rushed for more than 2,000 yards in one season,” said the coach. “He set that goal in the beginning of the season and he has a very good chance to accomplish it because of the work he put in.”
The impressive physical skills are matched by a one-track approach once Hills snaps on his helmet. “My goal,” he said, “is to do whatever it takes to lead my team to victory.”
Reach Rossi at email@example.com