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Funny how things change.
Just three years ago, Tye Hill found himself in a battle to win the starting running back position on the Clemson football team. With blazing speed and a knack for making the big play, Hill envisioned finishing out his career as one of the Tigers' all-time great ground gainers.
However now, on the eve of one of the biggest days of his entire life, the former running back finds himself as one of the top cornerback prospects in the country. In fact, many NFL Draft experts believe he'll be one of the first defensive backs taken in the 2006 NFL Draft.
"Hill is one of those players that benefited coming back for his senior year," notes one NFL scout. "He's a shut-down cornerback with excellent speed and explosion. Plus he can effectively read or diagnose the action, and he also works well with safeties. He quickly plants then breaks on the throw and displays a burst of closing speed to the play."
Hill, a product of St. George, S.C., admits that all the pre-draft talk is hard to ignore.
"I know that me and Jimmy Williams (Virginia Tech) are probably the top two (cornerbacks). He's a little more versatile. He could play safety," he said. "Some of the so-called ‘experts' have switched us back and forth, but I'm sure a lot of it comes down to how well we do at the combine. For me personally, I know it's very vital for me to run good at the combine."
Not surprisingly, Hill is already a step ahead of the game.
He knows that as a former running back and All-ACC track performer, the annual NFL Combine is the best place to show the rest of the world just how good a "track guy" can be.
"The scouts already know I can run a 4.3, but I want to go under that," Hill said of the upcoming event. "I want to go way under that, and that's one of the reasons why I have to go to the right trainer. I can't really change too much of what I've been doing."
But running a lightning fast 40-time is only part of the equation. As a cornerback in the National Football League, you also have to be able to tackle the most well-conditioned athletes in the world, and that means wide receivers, running backs, fullbacks and tight ends.
For Hill, the physical aspect of his game looks to be his most improved skill after coming back for his senior year.
"Becoming a better tackler was important for me," he said reflecting on his decision to stay for his senior season. "I'm a little guy; I'm not going to fool anybody. People look at me and they think, ‘He's just a finesse corner. He's going to cover, but he's not going to tackle you.'
"Nah, I will tackle you. I don't want anybody to think I won't tackle you. I want to be known as a physical corner. I want to be known as a complete corner all across the board, and that's something I work hard on, and I'm trying to get better at it everyday."
The numbers back that statement up.
Hill finished his senior season at Clemson with 53 total tackles, including five for loss, three interceptions and seven passes broken up. He was also named to the first team ESPN.com All-American team, the first team Walter Camp All-American team and was one of three finalists for the Jim Thorpe award honoring the nation's top defensive back.
Hill was a big reason Clemson's defense held a Bobby Bowden-coached FSU team and a Steve Spurrier-coached South Carolina team without an offensive touchdown in the final two games of the season. In addition, his 40 career passes defended are the seventh most in Clemson history.
And if further proof is needed, just ask head coach Tommy Bowden.
"He's done everything we've asked him to do here," said Bowden. "And I think this is the year he's begun to shed some of those labels of just being a 'track guy.' He's shown that he can hit you. And he will hit you."
And now, all that hard work, not to mention the decision to come back for his senior year, is about to pay off in a very big way. From broke college student to professional athlete, Tye Hill is about to reap the rewards of becoming the best of the best.
"It's something you start to think about more as it all gets closer: the combine, the draft, playing in the NFL. It's all kind of like a dream," Hill said. "But at the same time, you know there is a lot of hard work ahead getting ready for all that. You just have to take it all in stride, which is what I'm trying to do."
But before he leaves Clemson for a bigger stage, Hill has just one more goal he'd like to achieve before he gets too far into his professional career.
"The one thing I've got to do is come back here (to Clemson) because I want to tailgate!" he said. "I love the atmosphere here and games here, and the conference is getting so much better that it's crazy. I think that's kind of fun. It's neat.
"I'm definitely coming back. I had a great time here at Clemson."
Tye Hill Before the Draft
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