BOSTON -- You have to feel for a kid like Mansfield’s Brendan Hill.
All it took was one catch this fall, his first catch of the season, for all that hard work he’d done rehabbing that knee the last 10 months to go up in smoke. Once one of the state’s most promising two-sport superstars early in his high school career, these days he’s one of its most snakebitten.
Sunday afternoon, as the snow began to sprinkle down on Morrissey Boulevard, Hill warmed up with the Hornets’ basketball team, with a heavy brace on his right knee, as they beat Boston College High 84-69, his first appearance in uniform for Mansfield since the 2013 MIAA Division 1 State Final.
“It felt good,” Hill told ESPNBoston.com. “I started jogging for the first time a couple of weeks ago. I’m getting back into it, so it was good to be out there with the guys.”
Last Wednesday, the 6-foot-5 Hill signed a National Letter of Intent with the University of New Hampshire for football, finalizing a sense of security that was fulfilled when he committed to the Wildcats back in December over a dozen offers across the FBS and FCS ranks.
“It’s definitely great. Through all the injuries, UNH was really helpful. They always told me, ‘Whatever we can do’,” Hill said. “I’m just excited to get up there, and leave all the injuries behind. That’s the biggest thing for me.
In basketball, the 6-foot-5 Hill earned ESPN Boston All-State and Hockomock League MVP in his sophomore season of 2012-13. In his junior football season of 2013, he earned ESPN Boston All-State honors after recording 53 catches for 811 yards and 10 touchdowns as the Hornets' captured the inaugural MIAA Division 2 State Championship.
However, Hill was in crutches for that state championship game at Gillette Stadium, after suffering a full tear of his right ACL in the Hornets' annual Thanksgiving contest with rival Foxborough. That injury wiped out his entire winter of basketball, and the Hornets were unable to return to the D1 State Final.
Just as things were starting to pick up on the recruiting front, they had to take a detour. Hill grueled for 10 months rehabbing his knee before getting cleared for contact in August. But on the first catch of his first game of the 2014 season, down in White Plains, N.Y., against Westchester County power Archibishop Stepinac, he went down with a hyperextension to his knee.
He eventually returned to the game in what ended up a 42-7 loss, then turned in a vintage night in Week 2, catching six passes for 182 yards and a score in a 21-20 win over Milton.
After a bye week, Hill returned in Week 4 for a 42-22 rout at the hands of rival North Attleborough, and once again something didn’t feel right. Hill would need surgery again to repair his ACL, ending his high school football career and all but jeopardizing his senior hoop campaign as well.
“It was rough,” he said. “At that point, I didn’t think anything of it. But when I heard it happened again, it was just heartbreaking.
He continued, “It was definitely a killer, definitely the hardest thing that’s ever happened to me, back-to-back years not being able to play with these guys. But I mean, it happens. There’s nothing you can do about it, except just work through it.”
Still getting his wind back, and strength exercises still limited for another month or two, Hill will more than likely redshirt for the Wildcats. Long-term, Hill will look to compete at the tight end position, though just how he’ll be utilized in that role isn’t clear yet. For most of his career at Mansfield, Hill operated out of a “flex” role, often lining up detached from the line of scrimmage in an effort to create mismatches in the boundaries or down the seams.
When fully healthy, Hill was one of the most dangerous weapons across the Bay State. With him in the offense, the Hornets went from a run-heavy attack to one that aired it out, with Mansfield coach Mike Redding installing nearly a dozen new formations that had him lining up all over the field -- from tight in the slot, to split far outside the numbers in isolation -- with a garden variety of personnel groupings. He was also reliable as a run-blocker, setting the edge in runs out of tight formations.
If all works out, and Hill remains fully healthy, he could end up being a steal for the Wildcats, for whom the senior chose over FBS programs such as UConn and UMass, and FCS programs such as Villanova, Monmouth and Coastal Carolina.
Coaches have told him not to worry about putting on weight yet, but his goal is to head into August’s training camp at his senior year playing weight of 230 pounds.
And after all of this careful rehab, you might say he’s a big anxious to get back out there.
“I definitely want to go in there and prove myself and show them what I can do,” he said.