TAMPA — Those must have been epic sandlot games.
Four houses is all that separated where Joe Hills and Adrian McPherson grew up in Bradenton.
"Man, it's pretty crazy when you think about it," said Hills, one of the Arena Football League's top receivers. "When we were kids we used to run around and play hide-and-seek and all that."
McPherson, four years Hills' senior, remembers a skinny, athletic guy who "wanted to play with the big kids."
"To me he was just 'Little Joe' from down the block," the Storm quarterback joked.
Fast forward to the present and Hills has gone from tagging along to being McPherson's primary weapon.
"I have complete confidence in him and his ability," McPherson said. "I know if I can get the ball up there to him, he's going to come down with it."
Hills signed with Tampa Bay in June last year after beginning the year with Spokane. When Amarri Jackson had a season-ending injury, Hills made a huge impact. The former Tennessee State wideout caught at least three touchdowns in each of the final three games and had 215 yards receiving in the finale, setting a team rookie record.
Hills ended up being a negotiating tool in bringing McPherson to Tampa Bay this offseason.
"Our grandmothers live in those houses now, and we saw each other over the holidays," Hills said. "He told me he was thinking about coming to Tampa, and I said I was already there. I think (the Storm) sold him on me being there."
Hills and McPherson have turned into one of the most potent tandems in the AFL. Hills' 30 receiving TDs rank him third in the league and his 1,301 yards rank fourth. He has caught a TD in 15 straight games dating to last season and he had a 10-game multi-TD streak end May 18. The Palmetto High product also set the Storm single-game receiving record with 259 yards against Utah in April.
Hills will try to build on his impressive campaign tonight when the Storm hosts Central Division-leading Chicago. The Storm is coming off back-to-back losses for the first time all year.
"It seems like one game the receivers aren't making catches and the next the defense isn't getting sacks," Hills said. "We have to put everything together as the season winds down but I think we're on the right track."