Sometimes opportunities come about when you least expect it.
Former Florida safety Will Hill had a promising football career that seemed to go in the opposite direction because of off-field antics throughout his college years. After the 2010-2011 college season, his junior year, Hill decided to leave Florida in hopes of being drafted to the NFL.H is name was never read. Hill did get a tryout with the Giants last season as un undrafted free agent, but was released. It started to look like Hill's football career was dust.
"Right after [not getting drafted] actually. I thought this is it," Hill said.
After graduating from St. Peter's Preparatory School of Jersey City, Hill was ranked the top high school safety in the country by ESPN. He accepted a scholarship to the University of Florida and had an exceptional first year, making the SEC Football All-Freshman Team in 2008.
His years after that have been up and down as he was getting in trouble off the field. He was suspended in 2010 for violating team policies, and soon after a blog was released about a Twitter account of Hill's that spoke of drugs and prostitutes. His character was questioned after fathering four kids with three different women and there were reports of his use of marijuana.
After not getting drafted to the NFL, it almost seemed over for Hill. Earlier this spring Hill attended a tryout for the New York Giants and they had signed him to a contract. It was a move filled with curiosity around the league. One thing Hill was determined about was never losing doubt about his football career.
"There’s a guy, Lance Adams, my best friend, he’s been with me for the past five years and he’s always been in my ear like, ‘Look man, you were meant to play football. You had a little minor setback, just keep grinding and working and working.’" said Hill. "I got amongst a great set of people as in Ray Buchanan and Sam Madison. Those two guys pushed me, and kept pushing me and pushing me and I’m here now."
Hill is looking for a shot at redemption, and he has the potential to do so. He's 22 years old. He missed a year of football, but he's still a young athlete with fresh legs. As young as he is, playing in the NFL isn't just about him, however, as he wants an opportunity to provide for his family, and it's making him work twice as hard.
"I work on everything – every aspect of my game," Hill said. "I always come in early in the morning to get with the special teams’ coaches and my position coaches, to work on everything because I’m playing both safety positions and the nickel positions. So there is a lot for me to come in and to learn and also think about my kids. I have four boys that I have to go out and provide for, so I always think about them before anything."
Safeties coach Dave Merritt has been watching Hill during camp and has noticed his talents. Merritt is challenging Hill and has seen the willingness to learn from the safety.
"Will is a guy that we all see his athletic ability. This kid has speed. He has quickness, he has burst and acceleration, and this young man has all the tools that you want as a defensive back," Merritt said. "When you come here as a safety, you have to be ready to control all the coverage adjustments and you have to be ready to get everyone lined up accordingly. That’s going to be a challenge for him because I don’t know if he had to do that at Florida, but he’s learning. He is definitely learning."
Antrel Rolle has noticed his new teammate's talents and knows the challenges won't be easy for him. "He’s very versatile, he can play multiple positions, and right now, they’re all eager," Rolle said. "They all want to go out there and compete, they all want to learn. Most of all, they want to be on the same page with the older guys. You see a lot of that from the young guys. They’re young, but they’re very gifted in their mentalities."
Head coach Tom Coughlin has also been keeping an eye on Hill throughout camp. He sees Hill having the opportunity to make a statement on the field with his speed and athleticism.
"You see a real quick, well-conditioned athlete right now. He’s definitely had a couple of days where he’s stood out," Coughlin said. "He’s played pretty well. I’d like to see him… We look forward to seeing him play and competing in the preseason games, on special teams and defensively."
Though he's been physical throughout training camp so far, Hill knows he can provide more. "I haven’t played football in a year. I’ve got a lot built up in me. I need to hit somebody," Hill said.
Hill had his troubles in the past and he recognizes them. Not taking anything for granted, he is working twice as hard to keep an NFL career. He almost lost the chance once, and he sure doesn't want to lose it again.
"I play with a little bit more umph that’s behind me," Hill said. "I had dark times. I know what’s on the other side and I don’t want to go back."