So before we can even begin, you're probably thinking to yourself, "Stephen Hill? Dude is a wide receiver in Paul Johnson's offense...how can he be important enough to have his own article?" I want to start with this disclaimer: while this article largely deals with what he does in the passing game, Stephen Hill has also been a major contributor to the running game here at Tech. Countless times we've seen guys carrying the ball 25 yards down the field, with 10 men on the defense chasing them, only because the 11th is still 10 yards in front of them getting absolutely mauled on a block by Stephen Hill. It's details like that sort of perimeter blocking that take a team running our offense from good to great. Regardless of what he does on pass plays, Stephen Hill has proven himself an absolute Godsend for our running game on the exterior.
But I digress. Why write an article about Stephen Hill? Well, the other night I was doing a little thinking when it hit me how much of a polarizing figure like no other he is for our fanbase. Sometimes, you see him making absolutely circus catches that Calvin Johnson and Demariyus Thomas would double-take at (I present you with Exhibit 1 and Exhibit 2), and then only a few plays later you see him all by himself, dropping a pass that was better placed than if someone would have just walked up and handed him the ball. We all wonder to ourselves how it is that he can hit such opposite ends of the spectrum, even within a single drive. Regardless, he's made significant progress as a football player since coming to Tech, progress which will be detailed after the Jump.
I want to start with high school Stephen Hill, because in researching this article I learned something very fascinating. Hill has very good speed and generally is very hard to run down, in large part to his very long legs. Thus, football was not the only sport he played in high school as he was also a track and field athlete among other sports. His best event was the long jump, where he set a state record his senior year, leaping 25 feet, 8.75 inches. Just start thinking about how far that is, long story short, dude's a FREAK. Even better is that that long jump would have won the ACC 2009 Outdoor Championships, and furthermore would have placed 9th at the 2008 Olympics. Without question, the man is an impressive athlete to say the very least.
Stephen Hill was a freshman on the 2009 Orange Bowl team, playing second fiddle to future NFL first round draft pick Demariyus "Bey-Bey" Thomas. Some of his biggest contributions made to that team used his great speed on reverse plays, with his 5 carries for 84 yards. However, the departure of Thomas meant that Hill would be required to step up into the plate and be the #1 guy in 2010.
2010 proved tough for Hill, in 12 games he had 15 catches for less than 300 yards and 3 TD's. He also had a number of drops mixed in, and after a while every time the ball was thrown his way, you could see the fanbase cover its eyes, trying not to watch. On top of that, he was ruled academically ineligible for the bowl game, further adding to the disappointment in the season.
After the 2010 campaign, Hill seemed to recommit himself, putting in lots of time in the offseason working on his hands as well as his body in general. He showed up to the first game 15 pounds heavier (all muscle he'd put on) and with a newfound confidence in himself. His hard work clearly showed, and in the first month of the 2011 season he almost matched his 2010 receptions total with 14, far surpassed his yards total with 462, and passed his touchdown total with 4. He gave us moments as seen in the videos linked above, and things were looking like our passing game was going to be the missing piece of the puzzle for us to have a truly special season. Unfortunately, October came, and with cooler weather came a chill into our passing game on both ends, with the receivers being somewhat less effective and Tevin tending to eat one too many bowls of Wheaties for breakfast, resulting in passes going too far and generally being off target. He had 3 catches against uga and 2 each against Maryland, Clemson, and Va Tech, but one of the best things to see has been his attitude. Through his struggles, we're seeing him continue to play hard and show how badly he wants to win, whether it's the hellacious downfield blocking he unleashes on secondaries or jumping up and down in disbelief when passers don't realize that he was wide open.
Stephen Hill is clearly an integral part of our offense, and a part that has improved significantly this year. He's played with a great attitude and passion for the game, and I've been impressed that he's continued to fight through stretches of mixed results. I look forward to seeing his play against Utah in the Sun Bowl, and especially as a senior on The Flats next season.