Lehigh football freshman running back Zaythan Hill runs during the game against Georgetown on Saturday, Oct. 26, at Goodman Stadium. Hill broke a Patriot League record with a 94-yard touchdown run this season. (Courtesy of Lehigh Sports)

Football’s Zaythan Hill stands out in rookie season

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It took only three months of playing Division I football for Lehigh freshman running back Zaythan Hill to establish himself in the Patriot League record books. 

After rushing for a 94-yard touchdown on Oct. 19, against Fordham University, Hill effectively secured the longest touchdown run in Patriot League history. 

But his unprecedented run marked only the beginning of his league accolades. Two days later, Hill was named the Patriot League Rookie of the Week on Oct. 21. 

The North Carolina native said he was honored to receive the recognition, especially because it serves as affirmation that all of his efforts at practices and games are paying off. 

“You work hard for moments like this,” Hill said. “You don’t do drills every day, and (have) all these practices, to get to the game and not perform.”

Although his lengthy touchdown run marked a first for the Patriot League, it was not a first for Hill. Before playing as a Mountain Hawk, Hill had already recorded a 94-yard touchdown at Pinecrest High School in Southern Pines, North Carolina.   

Hill served as the captain of his high school team and was an All-Conference and first team offensive selection. Hill also competed for the track and field team at Pinecrest, where he qualified for the state tournament. 

While Hill has already experienced great success on the football field, he said football was not always his favorite sport growing up. He said he originally wanted to play basketball, but one of his teachers encouraged him to join his town’s youth football team. 

“I started playing football at a young age and loved it,” Hill said. “As I got older, I realized football in my high school was huge. It brought everyone together, and it definitely gave everyone school spirit, so I loved playing.”

Hill said his biggest supporter throughout his career has been his mother, who, like Hill, played basketball and ran track growing up. He said his mother serves as a pillar of support and always encourages him to break out of his comfort zone.

“When I am playing a game, I play for my mom,” Hill said. “She always told me that I can go places, and that I should venture out, and not stay in North Carolina, and try new things.”

Hill said his mom attended every one of his games in high school, but she has not yet traveled to Bethlehem to watch him play, due to work obligations. Nevertheless, Hill said he has remained positive. 

In the absence of his mother, Hill said his teammates have been similarly supportive.

Sophomore quarterback Alec Beesmer said Hill has been a major contributor to the team’s success so far this season. He said his talent in running the ball makes him an unstoppable force on the field.

“(Hill) is an extremely explosive running back, and when he gets to the open field, he’s tough to stop,” Beesmer said. “He has helped us tremendously running the ball, and his success contributes directly to the success our team has had this season.”

Freshman defensive back Jack Bush said aside from his inherent athletic prowess, Hill stands out for his consistently impressive work ethic. 

“(Hill) is one of the hardest-working kids on the team,” Bush said. “He practices aggressively, and it shows on the field. Defenses are forced to deal with him.”

Though Hill has already made a reputation for himself on the team and in the league, he said finding a family within Lehigh’s program has made the most significant impact on his experience so far. 

“I am definitely someone who tries to keep everyone on track and focused in practice, and if I am having a bad day, they do the same thing for me too,” Hill said.

The Mountain Hawks will play at Bucknell in its fifth Patriot League match on Saturday, Nov. 9, at 1 p.m.

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