, Tuesday, September 4, 2007
A player the caliber of Tower Hill School senior quarterback James Mraz brings excitement to a school's football program.
But Mraz is just one of several talented players Tower Hill coach Kevin Waesco has, as interest in the Hillers program has been on the upswing the past two seasons.
Mraz led the Hillers to an 8-2 mark last season and the Independent Conference championship with wins over Tatnall, St. Andrew's and arch rival Friends.
Although Tower Hill lost 10 seniors from that team, the Hillers return their top three rushers in Mraz, senior Brett Smith and junior Andrue Smith, and their top receivers in junior Justin Hicks and senior Beau Reese.
The Independent schools typically don't have the number of players many of the larger public and private schools attract. Waesco said he has 47 players this season. There normally are no freshman teams in the conference, and Tower Hill will play a modified junior varsity schedule.
"Our numbers seem to fluctuate in the 30s and 40s from year to year," Waesco said. "We had 27 my first year, and we were down to 22, 23 in 2002. I think the reason we have an increase in the number of young men playing football is due in part to an increase in interest in the sport. ... While our recent success has played a part, I think we have simply had more young men interested in playing football, and I hope that trend continues."
Mraz, 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, was a key to that success last year after missing the 2005 season due to a hip flexor injury.
He was the first-team all-conference quarterback in 2006, leading the Hillers in scoring with 74 points. He completed 44-of-84 passes for 835 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions. He also rushed for 699 yards and 11 TDs, and added four two-point conversion runs.
Mraz also plays shortstop on the Hillers baseball team, and is a guard-forward in basketball.
"We're all pretty excited and geared up for the season," Mraz said. "The whole team has worked pretty hard, and there is a lot of chemistry. I like the leadership part of it as a senior, but I count on everyone else to step up, as well. Everything has been clicking since preseason began."
Andrue Smith led the Hillers in rushing last year with 704 yards, and scored eight touchdowns. He also caught eight passes for 135 yards. Brett Smith had 333 yards rushing.
Another reason for the increasing interest in Tower Hill football is the construction of a new stadium and track, which will include lights. Waesco said the Hillers are expected to play two night games, Nov. 3 against Princeton Day and Nov. 10 against Friends. Tower Hill opens the season Saturday at Jenkintown (Pa.).
Mraz said last year's success boosted interest throughout the school, alumni and community.
"I think we actually have some kids who switched from soccer to football. And we have a very good soccer program," said Mraz, who also is a starter in the Hillers secondary. "We look across the street from school and our practice field, and see the new stadium and the lights going up. They just have to put the new track in. It should be awesome. Everybody at Tower Hill supports the sports teams."
Hicks led Tower Hill with 13 catches for 298 yards and four TDs a year ago. Reese had 10 receptions for 172 yards. Waesco said senior Andrew Van Wormer, an all-conference defensive back, gives the offense a third solid receiver.
The Hillers have some holes in the line to fill, but will build around juniors Anthony "A.J." Carter (6-1, 225), Tyler Hobbs (6-5, 220) and Nate McDonald (5-11, 236). Carter, a starter at tight end last year, will be a two-way tackle this season.
"We have a ton of speed, and defensively we will fly around the ball," Mraz said.By Jack Ireland