Marcus Hillman was a first-team All-South Jersey linebacker.
He wanted to be a safety.
“He begged me for two years to play back there,” Camden Catholic football coach Nick Strom said.
Hillman will get his wish in college. He plans to sign a national letter of intent Wednesday to play at Elon, where he projects as a defensive back for the Phoenix of the Colonial Athletic Association.
“It’s going to be a transition, but it’s nothing I can’t handle,” Hillman said. “It might be a little extra work, a little extra learning, but I’m prepared for that.”
Hillman will sign on the second national signing day for football recruits. The first period was in late December.
Hillman also considered Virginia Military Institute and Sacred Heart. He was sold on Elon, which is in North Carolina, during a recruiting visit in January.
“I went down with my parents, and I just liked everything about it,” Hillman said. “I loved the campus; it’s a great atmosphere; the coaches and the players were great to me.
“I just felt like it was the right place for me.”
Elon plays at the Football Championship Subdivision level of NCAA Division I. The Phoenix are in the same conference as Villanova, Delaware and Towson as well as James Madison, the two-time national finalist.
Elon was 8-4 overall last season and 6-2 in the CAA, finishing two games behind undefeated James Madison.
“It’s great football,” Hillman said. “Plus, a lot of the games are close to home.”
Hillman, who lives in Camden, said signing for a college scholarship was the culmination of a life-long dream.
“When you are little kid, you dream about playing college football,” Hillman said. “Then you get to high school and it’s another challenge and you have to put in more work.
“But to get that scholarship, it’s a dream come true.”
The 6-foot-0, 185-pound Hillman helped Camden Catholic rise in South Jersey prominence. Hillman was a three-year starter for teams that went a combined 26-4, including a 26-1 mark against South Jersey opponents.
As a senior, Hillman rushed for 1,419 yards on 202 carries (7.0-yard average) with 18 touchdowns. As a linebacker, he made 84 tackles, including 14.5 tackles for loss, with 15 sacks.
“As a player, it’s hard for me to come up with a total phrase,” Strom said. “Words like ‘complete player, physicality, relentless competitor’ come to mind.
“You look at a three-game stretch last year against Camden, [St. John] Vianney and Shawnee – you could put his play on both sides of the ball up there with anyone in the state.”
Strom said he spent two years trying to talk Hillman out of playing safety. But Strom thinks he will flourish there.
“As a safety, there’s not a doubt in my mind he’s going to excel there,” Strom said. “We almost considered it [moving Hillman to safety] at one point this year because we were so banged-up back there, but he was just too valuable to us close to the line of scrimmage.
“But at the FCS level and really all of football, you are seeing the game move toward safeties that can play coverage but also play the run – the ‘strong safety’ is making a return to the college level as more people are adopting the Saban Rip/Liz Cover 3 stuff [a defensive alignment run by Alabama under coach Nick Saban].”