Cornerback Just Right for Hill

Looking back, Tye Hill sometimes wonders what took him so long to make the switch. <BR><BR> "I love being a cornerback," the redshirt junior said.

"I didn't think it could be this much fun. Before, I just wanted to run the ball and I just wanted to score touchdowns. But I like it better, now."

Who could blame him? Prognosticators have labeled Hill and his fellow defensive backs with the Tigers as being one of the best secondaries in the entire country.

"I feel confident, I feel good, I know the system, I know what's in front of me, I know what I'm supposed to do and I'm just ready to play," Hill said. "Now that I've learned everything and I know what I'm doing, it's easy for me to fly around."

However, had it not been for the addition of defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach John Lovett in 2002, Hill might be challenging Duane Coleman and Yusef Kelly for time at the running back position.

With some of the best speed in the Atlantic Coast Conference – Hill is the reigning ACC 100-meter dash champion – he was recruited as a tailback to Clemson, where he rushed for third-leading rusher as a redshirt freshman ion 2002 with 225 yards and two touchdowns on 42 carries.

But after that year's Tangerine Bowl, in which Clemson got dismantled defensively by Texas Tech quarterbacks for 464 yards and five touchdowns on 39-of -52 passing, Lovett knew he needed some help on defense, especially in the secondary.

Even before Lovett joined the Tigers, he knew was pretty familiar with Hill. Lovett had recruited him to play tailback at Auburn, but Hill didn't want to leave the state.

It was Lovett's arrival to Clemson that got everything in motion for Hill to make the switch to defense.

"When he came here, it was almost like we were destined to be together," Hill said. "He kept telling me that if I went over (to defense) that he was going to start me, but I didn't believe that."

Not once did Lovett try to hide his feelings on where he thought the athletically gifted Hill should play.

"I wanted him when I first got here," Lovett said. "Obviously, they needed him on offense. He was the number three tailback at the time. But I just didn't see him getting a lot of playing time over there and I thought he could help us where we were.

"I knew he had the ability to do it, but it was just a matter of going out and teaching the guy how to play. Playing man-to-man is one thing and playing zone coverage is another thing."

After mulling over the situation for quite some time and discussing it with his parents, the 5-foot-10, 180-pound St. George native, met with head coach Tommy Bowden to discuss a possible position change.

Hill had gone into the meeting as a running back, but he came out as a cornerback, which he hadn't played since his sophomore year in high school. The switch had been made.

Throughout the spring of 2003, Hill showed flashes of what made Lovett want him on that side of the ball. But nonetheless, he showed his inexperience, which carried over into the early part of that season.

After struggling in the fist games of the year, Lovett benched Hill for the Middle Tennessee State and Georgia Tech games to ease the pressure off his prized pupil and give him a chance to rebuild his bruised confidence.

"Those guys have high expectations and they're really hard on themselves," Lovett said. "If something bad happens early, they'll be on the sidelines over there with me because their confidence is very fragile. The biggest thing I was trying to do was develop some confidence, where it wasn't a panic situation out there. "Physically and everything else, he was a very talented player, but you've got to be in the right spots. You just can't go out and lineup on somebody and cover them. There are certain things you've got to do. You've got to play within the confines of the defense."

It was exactly what Hill needed. He returned to the starting lineup against Maryland and he looked a little more at ease. The very next week against Virginia in the team's sixth game of the year, it was all finally coming together for Hill, who recorded his first-career interception to help lead the Tigers to the victory.

"During the Virginia game, I started getting my composure and started seeing things and how I was supposed to react," Hill said. "Being benched was a chance for me to sit back and learn. And when I came back, everything started clicking just the way (Lovett) told me it would."

Hill's ability and confidence grew with each passing game. He finished the year off in the Peach Bowl against Tennessee, with what may have been his best performance of the season.

Now, with a year under Hill's belt at cornerback, the sky is the limit.

"Last year, every practice and every game was a learning experience," Lovett said. "Now this year, there's a lot more carryover and now he's just starting to play and not think as much. He's playing with a lot more confidence."

CUTigers.com Top Stories