LB LeRoy Hill
Hill was ranked as #38 player in Georgia by SuperPrep and was a 5A all-state selection as a junior and senior. He was also named the Defensive Player of the Year in his region, and a all-area, all-conference and all-region selection as a junior and senior. Hill played in all 13 games last season and recorded a team-high 21 special teams tackles. Hill chose the Tigers over Georgia Tech and South Carolina.
Hill challenged Eric Sampson at one of the outside linebacker spots last season, but he's moved more into an interior role in 2003. After his considerable improvement this spring, the Georgia native was named the most improved linebacker of spring practice and listed as a starter headed into the fall.
LeRoy has the speed to cover a quick running back out of the backfield, and the toughness to handle the pounding that a middle linebacker takes close to the line of scrimmage. After establishing himself as a primetime special teams player in each of the last two seasons, 2003 will be the year to see if he can do it with the game on the line.
Hill is trying to move into the role vacated by former Tiger Rodney Thomas. He was listed as the starter this past spring after a productive month of practice. Thomas, along with Leake were the two tackling machines in the ACC last season. Thomas recorded 159 total tackles, while Leake added 169 himself. While it might be a little much to expect Hill to put up those kind of numbers this year, it will be important for him to try and become an impact player that can disrupt the flow of a game for an opposing offense.
Hill's teammates seem to have a lot of confidence in him entering the fall. "When you think about LeRoy Hill, the first thing you think about is speed," notes senior linebacker John Leake. "He really stepped up this spring, and he won the spot, so we have all the faith in the world in him."
Hill was one of the most productive linebackers this spring, even though he only recorded 3 tackles in the Orange & White game. Backing up the rising junior will be Roosevelt Nelson, who will also push for playing time as a redshirt sophomore. While the overall depth may be lacking with the linebackers this year, I'm anticipating improved play across the board from this unit in 2003, for a number of reasons. One, David Blackwell is now in the picture and has already been a huge factor in building up the confidence level in this group. Two, this will be the second year in John Lovett's defense- the learning curve won't be so big this go around. And three, there's a nice mix of youth, experience, and talent. Sure, the losses of Thomas, Feaster, and Morris will hurt, but I think we'll see the same aggressiveness out this new group, with smarter play and a better overall understanding of the game.