Hylton receiver Marshall Dill was under scrutiny last season -- his first at the school after transferring from Forest Park -- because the Bulldogs were eager to find replacements for Deon Butler and Dominique Mitchell, pass catchers who had graduated a few months earlier.
This season, the Bulldogs are studying Dill not because he is the new guy, but because he is the old guy.
Dill, who had 33 receptions for 692 yards last season, including at least one catch in every game, is the only proven receiver in a group that includes Fred Massa, Rondell Kelley, T.J. Clark and Eric Martin, none of whom are seniors, and none of whom caught a pass last season.
That's the same number of passes that Hylton junior quarterback Darius Reynolds has completed on the varsity level.
"I know they're watching me, especially the younger receivers," said Dill, a senior and All-Extra in 2004. "They look up to me, so I have to set a good example. [They ask me], 'What should I do on this route? Am I running it right? Am I breaking too early?' "
Dill was certainly a player worth emulating last season when playing Stonewall Jackson, the Bulldogs' road opponent in the season opener tomorrow.
Against the Raiders in his Hylton debut, Dill had five catches for 51 yards and a touchdown. In the region final win over Stonewall, Hylton's ninth straight victory in the series, Dill caught the only three Bulldog completions, for 47 yards, including a 32-yard reception down the left sideline that set up his team's second touchdown in a span of 16 seconds in the first quarter. He later intercepted a pass.
By training at Velocity Sports Performance in Alexandria during the offseason, the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Dill said he whittled his 40-yard dash time to about 4.55 seconds, down from 4.65 last year.
That might not seem like much, but it could be the difference between a 10-yard gain and a 50-yard touchdown.
"It makes a big difference," said Dill, who averaged 9.4 yards per punt return and 26.8 yards per kickoff return last year. "Any burst of speed you can get, that's separation from the cornerbacks right there. That's your number one job."
Dill also will be charged with preventing that separation -- he will play a lot more defensive back this season, which might be the position he ends up playing in college. So far, he has received a few Division I-A nibbles, and heavier interest at the Division I-AA level and below.
That was the same situation that Butler, also considered an undersized receiver by some, was in two years ago. He opted to walk on at Penn State and earned a scholarship after one year in the program.
"When I watch the film, it reminds me a lot of Deon," said Hylton Coach Lou Sorrentino, who on Tuesday received correspondence from Army and Hofstra regarding Dill. "That's when I said, boy, I think some people will be interested in this. And I think you'll see a guy who's sturdier and stronger this year.
"We see him as a playmaker. I think he's on the verge of a big year."