Will Hill is going back to the place where he was “The Thrill”. He’s going back home to New Jersey.
He won’t be in West Orange, but he’ll be in East Rutherford about 45 miles away. There, he has the chance to play for the defending Super Bowl champion Giants, who signed Hill to a one-year, $390,000 contract on Tuesday.
Hill was regarded by many to not only be the best safety in the nation, but the best overall athlete of the 2008 recruiting class after playing quarterback, receiver, running back and safety at St. Peter’s Preparatory School only 11 miles from the New Meadowlands. However, after deciding to take his college career to Florida, the move down south took his career prospects in the same direction.
“When I was in college, I was the No. 1 athlete coming out and then going straight to a team that won the national championship, that had the possibility to win another one, it was just rock star status basically,” Hill told ESPNNewYork.com. “My head got big and I did let my gifts get away and start[ed] acting like a fool, basically. So I did waste my talent in some aspects.”
Still, he decided to cut his time at UF short after an also-short list of memorable moments on the field that were easily outnumbered by his off-the-field ones. His two interceptions in a 34-31 overtime win over Georgia in 2010 couldn’t steer NFL scouts’ attention away from his two-game suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules, the public castigations from then-coach Urban Meyer and other coaches, his vulgar Twitter account and ultimately his poor showing at the Combine. (Hill claimed his Twitter feed was hacked).
Not long after going undrafted and being relegated to Arena Football in Arizona, Hill says marijuana use was the main thing that kept him from reaching his potential in college.
“I had smoked in college,” Hill told The Palm Beach Post after joining the Rattlers. “It wasn’t about failing drug tests, but the coaches knew I smoked, and that’s what the NFL asked about.
“My problem was off the field…I had off the field problems like partying and things. That’s what kept me from the NFL.”
Hill also attributed his less-than-stellar junior season to groin and shoulder injuries that were undisclosed to the media.
Regardless of what reasons prevented him from meeting expectations as a Gator, the Giants had been interested in Hill since the summer after the draft when they brought him in for workouts. At the time, they were too reluctant to gamble on him. A year later, New York has reason to. Hill will fill the vacancy left by safety Chad Jones, a third-round selection in 2010 from LSU who was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident two months after being drafted. And the Giants are still keeping their fingers crossed that strong safety Kenny Phillips won’t reaggravate his bothersome left knee.
Meanwhile, free safety Antrel Rolle was forced to move to cornerback during a stretch last season as the Giants’ secondary was decimated by injuries. The team lost five corners to season-ending injured reserve — including emerging star Terrell Thomas — while waiting for rookie Prince Amukamara to return halfway through the year from his own injury.
The Giants, whose scouting is well-respected around the NFL after several successful drafts in recent years, obviously saw something in Hill to keep him on their radar for a year. After spending this past offseason working out in the tri-state area, the team signed him to a deal only days after he participated in the team’s rookie minicamp. Now, he has a chance to reward their interest after not being invited to any NFL camp last offseason.
“It’s been a hard time, many nights crying, many nights just wondering, ‘When is this going to happen?'” Hill told ESPNNewYork.com. “But people were like, ‘Look, you’re a good athlete. Just work on being a better person.’ And that’s something I needed to do. I needed to calm down and sit down, and that’s what I did.”
Whether he’ll get a chance to play safety or even contribute on special teams for the Giants is yet to be seen. But at least he’s rediscovered his dedication to football.
In the same place he left it behind.