Sara Tabin

Mayor Toni Harp honored Hillhouse High School’s championship football team last week for its third state victory in five years.

The mayor awarded trophies and spoke to the team’s players and coaches at City Hall on Feb. 22, two months after the team’s 42–21 victory over St. Joe’s High School in the Class M state championship game.

“It was one of the best feelings of my life,” Hillhouse senior and starting defensive end Derrick Sims said of the championship game. “Winning the state championship was the goal of the season, and it felt great to end my senior season on that note.”

After trailing by a point at halftime, the Hillhouse squad rallied, scoring 22 unanswered points and holding their opponents to less than 30 total yards of offense in the second half.

The championship victory capped off a 12–1 season, and represented Hillhouse football’s third state championship in the last five years, but the team’s first under head coach Reggie Lytle. Lytle played for Hillhouse in 1985, when the team was ranked first in the state, and served as an assistant coach during the team’s 2012 and 2014 championship seasons.

Lytle said he was extremely proud of his players and he hopes to make another championship run next season.

The team has performed as impressively academically as it has on the field. Lytle said that all of the team’s departing seniors will attend college next year, and that most of his players’ GPAs were above a 3.0. Academic excellence is something that Lytle has stressed all season long.

“You get your schoolwork done first, that’s the first priority,” Lytle said. “Getting our players into college is the first priority.”

Billy Oliver, a senior and the team’s starting center, said there were organized hourlong study halls for the team before each practice, and that ample tutoring help was available for team members. In addition, Lyle received weekly progress reports from players’ teachers so that he could monitor his players’ academic performance. Oliver, whose 4.1 GPA was the highest on the team, said he is waiting to hear back from several colleges including Yale and the University of Pennsylvania.

Sims said Harp told him and his teammates how proud she and the residents of the city were of the team and that they “showed that New Haven produces more than just statistics … it produces well-rounded young men.” He said the ceremony was a special moment for him.

Lytle said several of his players plan to continue to play football in college, but that others will move forward as nonathletes. Oliver, who is considering playing collegiate football, said his experience on the Hillhouse team will always hold a special place in his heart, even if he chooses to play in college.

“The thing I’ll miss most about the team is the brotherhood,” Oliver said. “High school football is unlike any other type of football in that you play with people you’ve grown up with and gone to school with all your life. That’s the stuff you won’t have in college, where people from across the country and from different walks of life play on the team.”

City spokesman Laurence Grotheer said the mayor presented each player with a trophy and treated the athletes and their coaches to a pizza dinner after the ceremony.