Is there a prep football program in Nashville more down and in dire straits than Hillwood High?
If so, not many. Maybe none. Following a school-best state quarterfinal appearance under coach Jerry Link in 2004, the Hilltoppers have gone 2-38 over the last four years and finished last in the region two of the last three years.
Two precious wins in 40 games and only five seasons after the school finished 12-1 and reached the quarterfinals, Hillwood looks to turn things around… again.
Mose Phillips has overseen the last two years of misery — which he calls his darkest days as a coach or player. He’s looking for a little sunlight for the green and white in 2009.
Entering his third year, the ‘Toppers coach has experienced just one win — a 38-14 victory over Glencliff in 2007. Since then, Hillwood has lost 12 straight games, including an 0-10 campaign last year.
It’s quite a difference for someone who was used to making postseason appearances at Hillsboro (where he graduated in ’89) and as a star back at the University of Tennessee (where he finished in ’94).
Phillips was part of an earlier renaissance at Hillsboro where, as quarterback, he helped guide the Burros to their first-ever playoff appearance in ’89 and later served as an assistant there until the Hillwood job came open.
“I jumped at the chance to be a head coach. I had some doubts early on arriving here,’’ said the 36-year-old Phillips. “But late in my first season (’07), we were starting to make strides. [Then] just before last season began, we lost our starting quarterback, Ricky Bedell for the entire year with an ACL injury.’’
Sadly, in sports, when thing are going badly, it is often hard to reverse the trend. Things seem to go from bad to worse all too quickly.
Playing several players out of position at quarterback, Hillwood was shut out in four of its last six games and only scored 64 points the entire season.
“That (Bedell’s loss) really set us back, he was the heart and soul of the team. This year, we’ve got a great corps of 12 seniors and more athletes than before. We have 40 out this year. We ended up the season with just 21 last year.’’
There are a few reasons for the lack of success.
“One thing is we’re in close proximity to MBA and Ensworth, good private schools [that] we lose prospective athletes to,’’ Phillips said. “And unlike public schools like Maplewood, Hillsboro, Hunters Lane, we don’t have any nearby neighborhood feeder schools to draw from. As a result, we don’t get that team togetherness and camaraderie early on.
“You could say it’s a different neighborhood culture. We’ve had three coaches in three years (Bobby Baskin coached the ’06 team), not very good for continuity.’’
Phillips is hoping for a breakthrough year.
“I think our team is closer this year than ever,’’ he said. “We had a senior retreat last weekend, which we called our Jelani Overton retreat. It was named for our weight training coach who passed away the past year (in November).”
“I ran into (ex-Gallatin High coach) Calvin Short at a scrimmage last year,’’ he added, “and he told me it’s great what I’m doing, helping bond together the different neighborhoods we have represented into one team. That really meant a lot.’’
A supportive administration helps too. School Principal Steve Chauncey and Athletic Director Steve Brown have been a big help.
“Mose gives our school and our team a great role model,’’ said Chauncey, starting his second year at Hillwood. “He’s someone who has played here in Nashville (Hillsboro) and at UT. He drives the school bus, picks up the players, whatever needs to be done. He’s a coach that anyone would want their son to play for.
“Sure, we’d like to go 10-0 and to the playoffs, but Mose represents so much more than that. He’s about character and representing yourself the best way possible.’’
Hillwood hasn’t been to the playoffs since the ‘Toppers made back-to-back trips in ’03 and ’04 in 4A under Link — the advance to the ’04 quarterfinals standing as the team’s furthest trip ever.
This season, the first month on the Hillwood schedule should prove interesting, to say the least.
Their opener is at home Aug. 21 against Nashville Christian School, another west Nashville team going through hard times, finishing 1-9 last year.
But for the second game (Aug. 28), Hillwood will in essence be going to the lion’s den when they travel for the dedication of the new Father Ryan stadium to play the Irish. It’s safe to say that Ryan will be more than fired up for that game.
Next up is Class 5A Nashville region foe Glencliff (representing Hillwood’s sole win in three years), followed by the new East Lit team.
Phillips noted wide receivers Brandon Brown and Jonathan Brewster, defensive ends Jimmy Goodloe and DE Max Ugboaja and fullback Ismail Malik as his impact players. He added there is a three-way battle for the quarterback position.
Moses parted the Red Sea in biblical lore. Hillwood’s Mose hopes for his own amazing act.
As for the long-shot possibility of competing for the playoffs, Phillips said, “You just go out and do your best on the field. That’s all you can do.’’