An undefeated record was on the line in the fourth quarter last October.
Down 22-14 to Holy Spirit, it would take some serious work for the Camden Catholic football team to come through with a win to send them to 7-0.
Fortunately for the Fighting Irish, the luck of the four-sided clover was on their side. For Marcus Hillman, the comeback for a 28-22 win stands as his favorite memory.
But the Camden Catholic senior has been busy this fall making more of them.
“The play I’ll always have in the back of my mind for the rest of my life is last year against Holy Spirit,” Hillman said. “We were down. I had a big play, scored a touchdown. Next play, got a sack for loss then another big run. Our tight end had a one-handed catch, scored a touchdown, and we won the game.”
Camden Catholic has been a successful football team in Hillman’s four seasons, but it might be even better in molding its players, coaches and fans into one big family.
“I love being with my team, being with the players,” Hillman said. “It’s like a family with us all working hard on the field. Nobody takes plays off or anything. It’s just like a family connection playing football.”
Securing game winners and going over 100 yards for four straight games to begin the 2017 season wasn’t always the plan with the Cherry Hill native. Football didn’t serve as his go-to until Hillman watched Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb on TV.
“My brother was a real track guy, and I always wanted to be like my brother and run track,” Hillman said. “But then one day I was watching the Eagles, at like six years old or seven, and told my dad to sign me up. I saw Donovan McNabb throw a pass, and that was when I knew I wanted to play football.”
The 5-foot-11, 181-pound athlete has been a top track man for the Irish. He took fourth in the 100-meter dash at the Camden County Championships last spring.
But football is Hillman’s specialty and first love. It hasn’t been easy, though, as injuries have set him back in the past. Again, it was a football star who gave him the inspiration to push forward.
“My inspiration is [Adrian Peterson],” Hillman said. “After all the injuries, he came back, fought and kept playing. I’ve been through an ankle injury my freshman year, hamstring my sophomore and hurt it last year, too, and missed two games. So he’s shown me how to overcome injuries and play through it.”
This season, Hillman has run for 706 yards and eight touchdowns on 86 carries for the 4-0 Irish, who are No. 3 in the Inquirer rankings heading into Friday night’s showdown at No. 10 Shanwee (3-1). As an outside linebacker, he leads the Irish with 9 1/2 sacks.
“I’m tremendously proud of him,” Camden Catholic coach Nick Strom said of Hillman. “He’s matured into an exceptional football player and quality young man. Our defensive coordinator, Joe McColgan, regards him as one of the top two or three outside linebackers he’s had in his long career.”
Hillman is a productive runner but also a top receiver and blocker. Strom regards Hillman as “the perfect fit” for the Irish’s fast-paced, no-huddle spread offense.
Hillman has drawn recruiting interest from college programs such as Bryant and Richmond, and Strom expects more programs to get involved with his star senior in the near future.
“He’s only 16 years old,” Strom said. “He’s going to be a special college football player.”