IT’S THE LAST MONDAY IN JULY IN NORTHEAST Ohio, but you wouldn’t know it with the temperature outside barely reaching 60 degrees.
Inside the empty halls of Hubbard High School, head football coach Brian Hoffman makes his way from a coaches meeting room to the weight room, where his team is scheduled to workout shortly.
His cell phone goes off. It’s a member of the Eagles football team.
“What do you mean you don’t have a ride to practice?” Hoffman asks.
It’s more of a rhetorical question, since practice is beginning in less than 30 minutes. After listening to the answer briefly, Hoffman instructs the player to tell someone earlier in the day (or at least more than a half hour before practice) if he needs a ride in the future.
Hoffman hangs up appearing slightly annoyed, but in his eighth season as head coach at Hubbard — 11th overall, spending three years at West Middlesex High School in Pennsylvania before jumping the state line — he knows the challenges of dealing with high school students.
The month of July has actually been one of the more relaxing times of the year for Hoffman and the school’s athletic director, Chuck Montgomery, whose phones hardly stop ringing.
The reason for most of the calls: Larry Scott and George Hill.
Running backs with more hype (like Maurice Clarett) have started their careers in the Mahoning Valley. Running backs with more success (like Ted Bell) became bigger football royalty in these parts.
But having two supreme talents share the backfield is fairly unprecedented.
This year, the Hubbard Eagles will combine power and vision with speed and agility, to produce the Valley’s most versatile one-two punch.
STARS ON THE RADAR
Scott (6-foot-1, 215 pounds) has been on Division I college football programs’ radar for three years. Entering his senior season at Hubbard, Scott has amassed 5,217 total yards and scored 66 touchdowns. He’s eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards in each of his three seasons and has a career average of 9.0 yards per carry.
Before his junior year, Scott had already received scholarship offers from Tennessee, Michigan State and West Virginia. Despite a nagging foot injury last season that caused him to sit out a game and miss parts of two others, Scott was able to put up the best numbers of his career. With that came more offers and more phone calls.
“Larry and George have been recruited very, very heavily and obviously that comes with more attention,” Montgomery said. “All the coaches were very classy with each visit and they just wanted to make sure everything was on the up-and-up.”
Pittsburgh offered in February. A few weeks later, Auburn and Alabama offered Scott on the same day, and Ohio State was the last to get in on the talented running back in March. Thirteen unofficial visits later, and a few more phone calls in between, Scott selected Michigan State.
“I visited there four or five times and there was something better that I liked about it every single time I went there,” Scott said about East Lansing. “I always knew that was the one and everyone would ask me and I would never give them the answer.
“I would tell people, ‘You’ll know when it gets here.’”
He announced his decision on Twitter on July 10. Scott had fun toying with recruiting bloggers and fans on social media in the process. A few hours before he made his announcement, he asked his 1,400-plus Twitter followers where they thought he should go to school. Within minutes, his feed was filled with responses of fans telling him to pick their school.
“It was all in good fun,” he said with a chuckle.
Hill (6-1, 185) approached the recruiting process the same way he does opposing defenses: with precision and speed.
Last season, as a sophomore, Hill had 100 carries for 1,175 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also jumped off the screen even when he wasn’t the one being watched.
“With Larry being so highly recruited, [Ohio State coaches] were watching film on him,” Montgomery explained. “When they did that, George just stood out — his speed especially — and they were like, ‘Who’s that?’”
As they started going over more film on Hill, OSU couldn’t resist. Hill made an unofficial visit to Columbus in May and received a scholarship offer from the Buckeyes while on campus. Five weeks later, he verbally committed to Ohio State.
“I felt comfortable there and that’s where I wanted to go,” Hill said.
As Scott and Hill arrive at the high school for their scheduled team workout — fresh off a busy summer of campus visits and recruiters coming through Hubbard to make their pitch — the duo is excited to put talk of their futures on hold. They’re not going to televise their announcements, answer questions mid-week about which school is in the lead, or most importantly be a distraction to their current team.
“I really don’t care about being on TV or getting interviewed or any of that,” Scott said. “I’m focused on what I have in front of me this season.”
Or what the Eagles are referring to as unfinished business.
COMPETITION BREEDS SUCCESS
Hill had trouble getting on the field as a freshman. He appeared in four games and carried the ball 10 times for 120 yards. A year later, he once again found himself stuck on the outside looking in to a talented backfield that included Scott and Darnell Tate.
In a Week 2 win over Girard, Scott injured his foot. Hoffman viewed it as an opportunity to get a better look at Hill.
What he saw was an athlete whose skills couldn’t be left on the bench anymore. Hill rushed for 113 yards and scored two touchdowns the next week.
“Last year I had to work to get on the field, because I was just a sophomore,” said Hill. “This year I’m going to be starting on the field, so that should be great.”
Where he’ll be starting remains to be seen. Hoffman has a problem every coach would love to have. He has to figure out a way to get the most out of Scott and Hill, who are both listed at running back. Again, not a bad problem to have coming into a season without a lettering quarterback on the roster.
“They’re going to be on the field at the same time,” Hoffman said with a grin. “They’re both obvious weapons that I’m not just going to alternate carries with.
“We have a game plan to include both of them to try and keep people from loading up on one.”
Hoffman said Hubbard found some things that worked last season that he plans to bring back, but he’s also been working with his assistant coaches in the offseason to come up with even more schemes to get the two involved. He feels there’s no ceiling on new ideas, either.
“Those guys will obviously take a little bit of pressure off whomever [the quarterback] is, just because of what they can bring to the game plan,” Hoffman said.
Scott brings power. Hill brings speed.
In the weight room, the two get at it, according to Scott.
“We put up mad numbers,” Scott said with a smile. “Bench, squat, dead lift, you name it.”
On the track, Hill runs the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds. Scott runs a 4.4.
“Whenever we have a break, like during the weekend, we go to the track and test our speed out,” Scott said. “That’s something that I wish I had, and I’m sure [Hill] wishes he had my power.”
There’s another weapon on the team with blazing speed. Larry’s brother, Isiah (who’s uncommitted but has received a handful of D-I offers), does just fine keeping pace in their races, according to Scott.
Competition breeds success. Although neither Scott or Hill would admit any exists, their coach sees it differently.
“I’m sure there’s a competition between them, but it’s a friendly one,” Hoffman said. “They want the best for one another.
“When Larry had to step out a couple games last year and George was doing well, Larry was the first guy on the sidelines when George was coming off, giving him a pat on the back and helping him out on what he needs to do.”
There’s no lack of footballs in Hubbard. At least not yet.
And since both Scott and Hill have D-I scholarships in hand, they’re back to focusing on that unfinished business they wouldn’t stop talking about.
“If [Scott] makes a good play, hey, I’m loving that he’s doing that because that’s getting us points,” Hill said. “That’s really all I’m worried about.
“This year, our hope is that both of us stay [healthy] and in games, cause that’s gonna be hell.”
The heart and soul of any good football team is its offensive line.
The heartbeat of Hubbard’s offensive line stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 314 pounds. OK, so it’s a heavy heart.
Senior Matt Jones is the undisputed leader of a unit in charge of clearing space for Scott and Hill. They’ll also be protecting a first-year starter at quarterback.
Jones is the third member of this year’s Hubbard team committed to a Division I school on a football scholarship. Tyler Taafe is the fourth, heading to Toledo.
Jones gave a verbal to West Virginia at their Junior Day last February. He’s been to Morgantown plenty of times before (his father, David, and cousin, Jason, were both WVU recruits) and grew up a fan of the Mountaineers, so it was an easy decision for the lineman.
Jones has a country-boy feel when you first meet him — yes sir, no sir — and drives a pickup truck. However that politeness extends onto the football field only in terms of giving credit to his teammates.
“What [Scott and Hill] do shows how good our line is,” Jones said. “There’s five guys on the line and it takes five guys to do what we do.
“For them to rush for 200 or 300 yards a game shows how good the front five are.”
This year, Jones will be joined by four other seniors — Zach Hover, Drew Bencetic, Frank Cimmento, and Adam DeMarco. When it comes to their importance, the feelings are mutual.
“The No. 1 thing I shout out first is the lineman,” Scott said. “Without the linemen, obviously I wouldn’t be as great as I am.
“You’ve got the big hoggers in the front to block for us and I like to give them all the credit.”
When Jones missed the second half of last year’s Division III regional title game against eventual state champion Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, there was a glaring hole in the offense — and it wasn’t one Scott or Hill could run through.
Jones lost consciousness and had a momentary blackout on the field, according to Hubbard athletic trainer Kate Frank. The team physicians diagnosed Jones with a concussion. It was a big blow for the Hubbard offense, but did little to change the fact that the Eagles were outmanned by a talented Irish team for the second year in a row.
That’s the unfinished business that Scott, Hill, Jones, and even Hoffman — albeit cryptically — keep talking about.
“High school football is a long 10-week season,” Hoffman said. “When you’re dealing with 45 kids on a football team, you have to be playing very well each and every week and obviously you have to stay healthy.
“When you take a Larry Scott or a Matt Jones out of your lineup, it changes the complexion of your team. So other guys have to understand their importance and step up if opportunities are given to them.”
According to Hoffman, the Eagles’ goal every year is to get beyond where they’ve been in the past. But he, and the rest of the team, acknowledged that can’t happen without hard work in July and August.
“Especially since we swept our schedule last year, we know what we’re capable of this year,” Scott said. “We’re looking forward to making it past the third round.
“Instead of 13 weeks, we’re looking forward to 15 weeks, for sure.”
Hill echoed his running mate.
“I want to get a state title with him,” he said, looking toward Scott. “It would’ve been great last year, but this year it’s got to happen.”