LJ Hill

Reeltown's LJ Hill (78) was a standout on the defensive line despite typically play on the offensive side of the ball for the Rebels.

Any time a team can win the turnover battle in a football game, it’s bound to have a momentum shift. But when that team can turn those turnovers into points, that gives it even more confidence.

That’s exactly what happened for Reeltown on Friday night in a 33-21 defeat of Maplesville. The Rebels’ LJ Hill, who was moved to play a bit more defense in the top-five clash, scooped up a fumble forced by teammate Eric Shaw and ran it to the house for a 70-yard score.

Hill had another fumble recovery and is the Outlook Player of the Week.

“The reason he was hesitant (to run it back) was he had Eric and Jay (Corbitt) saying, ‘Give me the ball,’” Reeltown coach Matt Johnson said. “They were looking to score. But as soon as (Hill) took off, Eric and Jay and the rest of the defense just formed a wall of blocking that screened off anybody to get to him.

“That was big for us just because of the fact that they had a good return and were moved the ball a little bit on that drive, which was tough sledding for them. Then for us to turn that turnover into points was stealing a possession, and that was a huge momentum swing.”

While Hill didn’t turn his second fumble recovery into any points, it easily could’ve been a touchdown for the Red Devils. Maplesville was driving the ball well and had gotten into the red zone before Hill put the heat on Red Devil quarterback Jackson Abbott. Hill easily overpowered him and just ripped the ball out of his hands.

In addition to his fumble recoveries, Hill added a handful of tackles, including two for a loss and a sack. And the most impressive part about Hill’s game was the fact he’s not typically on the defensive side of the ball. But his 5-foot-10, 260-pound frame seemed to be better suited against Maplesville’s tough offensive line.

“Couple reasons we did that; one was to swap in and out to stay fresh is one thing,” Johnson said. “But also with what they were doing offensively, they were triple-teaming our nose guard and getting underneath him even with Landon (Kelley) and Rob (Crittenden) just because of their leverage. We put LJ in there who is a lot stronger. I mean, he’s a 500-plus pound squatter, so he came and he just had better leverage so he could hold his ground.”

But as much impact as Hill made defensively, he continued to start on the offensive line and was holding his blocks and giving Reeltown’s skill players plenty of time to move the ball.

“His biggest game changer for us is what he does on offense and that didn’t change Friday night,” Johnson said. “He’s so powerful and strong that when he uses his leverage, he’s just moving people around. He’s definitely developed into a guy that’s really big for us on both sides of the football.”

As just a junior, Hill still has plenty of room to grow and Johnson is hopeful Hill’s early success and accolades don’t allow him to get complacent.

“Especially linemen are definitely not used to these accolades, so I wanna see how he handles success and how he handles an individual success,” Johnson said. “He’s gotta continue doing what he’s doing every week and on Fridays.”  

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc.