HighSchoolOT.com logo

Hillside motivated by last year's early playoff exit

Hillside first football practice (July 31, 2017)

Aug, 2 2017, 1:09 PM

Hillside entered the state playoffs last year with a 9-1 record. The only loss was a last-second loss to Dudley in week four.

The Hornets expected a playoff run, but what they got was a slow walk back to the locker room after a 38-34 loss to Hoggard in the first round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4-A state playoffs.

"You don't forget going into the playoffs with only one loss – and that loss being very questionable – and then come back and lose in the first round," said senior offensive lineman Michael McGirt. "It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I still remember that game."

That four-point home loss has stuck in the heads of the players throughout the off season.

"It better be motivation for coaches and players," said head coach Ray Harrision. "I think we under-performed when we got to hte playoffs, so hopefully we can turn that around this year. I know we have a tough schedule, but we have the guys who have put in the work this spring and summer, and hopefully we can go a littler further in the playoffs."

If the first few days of practice are any indication, the players and coaches have bought in.

"This year, I can already tell we're more focused than we were last year," said David Madzivanykia, a junior defensive end. "We have more camaraderie with each other, and I know the person next to me is going to do their assignment and the person behind me is going to do their assignment. I feel like we can go deep int he playoffs this year."

Hillside returns a wealth of talent this season, starting in the offensive backfield with quarterback Randy Trice, Jr., and running back Jamal Elliott, an Oregon recruit. Combine that with what Harrison calls "explosive" wide receivers, and stopping this Hornets offense could be a tall task.

"I think offense right now is really clicking and they're on the same page," Harrison said. "We have a returning quarterback that's going to be really good, four or five explosive receivers ... and I call [Elliott] 'slash' because he can be a running back slash receiver. He's very explosive for us."

The players agree.

"I think this team's great. I think we have a great defense and a great offense, we have a returning quarterback, returning receivers and one of the top running backs in the state, so I think we have a good chance of doing big things this year," McGirt said.

Hillside will be dropping from the 4-A classification to the 3-A classification this fall and joining the Big Eight Conference. The new league also includes Cedar Ridge, Chapel Hill, East Chapel Hill, Northern Durham, Northwood, Orange and Southern Durham. The Hornets don't expect it to be easy.

"I think it may be a little stronger than the PAC 6 was last year when you think about the top three or four teams in this conference," Harrison said. "I think it's going to be very challenging having Orange, Southern now is a conference foe again, I think the unknowns of Northwood because I don't really know a lot about them. I think it's going to be challenging."

But Hillside is setting itself up to be battle tested before conference play begins, playing what may be the toughest schedule of any team in the region.

The Hornets open the season on Aug. 18 with a road game at New Bern before hosting its only home non-conference game on Aug. 25 against Scotland County. Scotland features the top-ranked running back in his class, Zamir White. The following two weeks include road games at Pinecrest on Sept. 1 and at Dudley on Sept. 8.

"We have some really good competition coming up in the first four games with some high-level teams that can go really, really deep in the playoffs," Madzivanykia said. "It's going to get us ready for the postseaosn. If we can prove ourselves at the beginning of the season, we should be OK."

Harrison hopes that is the case.

"I think once we get through this gauntlet out of conference, hopefully we're prepared. Win or lose, however we finish out of conference, I just want the kids to play some great football," he said.

Kickoff on Aug. 18 at New Bern is slated for 7:30 p.m.

Follow Nick Stevens on Twitter @NickStevensHSOT

web_editor : Nick Stevens