It’s safe to say that Stephen Hill is your classic overachiever.
After all, the Parsippany Hills senior defensive tackle was never projected as a possible standout when he first entered the school a little more than three years ago. Hill was first an undersized fullback and linebacker with not a lot of potential.
But nothing was going to deter Hill from being a key member of the Vikings.
“I remember growing up and watching the Parsippany Hills football team and always wanting to be like them,” Hill said. “I knew when my time came, I was going to have to earn my spot on the team.”
When Hill was a sophomore, he was targeted to be a backup at both fullback and linebacker.
“I figured that was it,” Hill said.
However, Parsippany Hills head coach Dave Albano had an idea. Seeing the way Hill moved along the line of scrimmage, Albano thought that Hill could become a factor as a defensive tackle, even though he stood only 5-foot-8 and weighed just 200 pounds.
“He uses his lack of size to his advantage,” Albano said.
“It was a lot different than playing linebacker,” Hill said. “As a defensive tackle, I always had someone on me. With my size, it wasn’t easy, but I just used my speed to get around everyone. I perfected moves because of my speed.”
It also helped that Hill was also developing as a fine wrestler.
“Wrestling is huge for him,” Albano said. “He has such good leverage because he’s such a good wrestler.”
“Wrestling helped me become a better football player,” said Hill, who won more than 30 matches, including the District 9 championship and finished fourth at Region 3 last season at 220 pounds. “I like facing guys who are bigger than me. My size has never been a deterrent. It’s definitely a motivation, knowing I’m going to face someone bigger. It’s definitely a mind game. They see my size and they think they have me. I like that a lot.”
No one has had Hill for the last two seasons at defensive tackle.
At the end of his junior year, Hill might have been the best defensive player the Vikings had — and that included highly-touted Division I prospect Michael Dogbe (headed to Temple).
“If you try to single block him, it’s over,” Albano said. “Stephen is just committed to being a better player all the time. He’s committed to the weight room, where he spends so much time with Dogbe and (Michael) Weiss. His motor never stops. He’s so compact and physically strong that he’s tough to handle.”
After Hill’s stellar All-NJAC National Division season as a junior, Albano had an idea. He was going to move the extremely talented Dogbe from outside linebacker to defensive tackle to play alongside Hill.
“We knew we already had Hill, so we had to do something with Dogbe,” Albano said. “We then knew that we had the guys up front. I told them before the season that if they didn’t dominate, we were in trouble.”
Hill has never once begrudged his buddy Dogbe anything.
“If Stephen had Dogbe’s size, he would be just as heavily recruited,” Albano said. “He sees the coaches coming in and recruiting Dogbe and to Stephen’s credit, he’s never said a thing.”
“It helps that Michael gets a lot of attention, because it makes people forget about me,” Hill said. “We feed off each other. When I see him make plays, it makes me want to make plays like him.”
While Dogbe has enjoyed an All-State caliber season, Hill’s production as a defender is pretty substantial. Hill has made 120 tackles, 47 of which have been of the solo variety. He’s registered 11 sacks and forced 10 fumbles.
And Hill will be a major force as the Vikings face Summit for the NJSIAA North 2, Group III championship Friday night at Kean University. The Vikings, having defeated an undefeated team in West Essex to reach the title game, will try to topple the unbeaten Hilltoppers and their 23-game winning streak — a streak that includes a win over Parsippany Hills in the sectional semifinals a year ago.
Albano has no doubt that Hill will grace some college football roster next fall.
“He’s going to get the chance to play college football, no question,” Albano said. “He just isn’t getting recruited like Dogbe was and Stephen is fine with that. We sat him down and talked about the (recruiting) process before the season and he understood where he was. He doesn’t have a preference right now. But he’ll get his opportunity.”
Albano is just thrilled about the way the classic overachiever has developed into a high school football standout.
“His hard work helped him,” Albano said. “Wrestling helped him. He then got a little taste of success and he realized he could do it. He developed so much over the last two years.”
Hill has only one goal now.
“I want to be able to help get the first one (state championship) for the school,” Hill said. “It would mean the world to us.”