By David Driver
Shaun Hill was a lightly-recruited quarterback coming of rural Parsons, Kansas. But after two seasons of proving himself at the junior college level in Kansas he had several Division I college visits lined up at major football programs.
Hill’s first visit was to Maryland where the quarterbacks coach was Mike Gundy.
“He was from Oklahoma and I just had a good rapport with him right away,” Hill recalls.
The visit to College Park went so well that Hill called off visits to several other schools, including South Carolina, Hofstra and what is now Missouri State.
“I liked it and I cancelled everything after that. I was ready for something different,” Hill told TT this week. “I was ready to get out and try some new things. I really liked what the University of Maryland offered.”
Gundy, after Hill’s first season with the Terps, left to join the coaching staff at Oklahoma State and he has been the head coach there since 2005.
Hill still had a strong senior year at Maryland in 2001 as he led the Terps to the ACC title and an Orange Bowl appearance by throwing for 2,308 yards and 13 touchdowns. The next year he joined the Minnesota Vikings as a rookie free agent quarterback.
Now in his 15th season in the Hill, who has made several stops around the league with several teams, the native of Kansas returned to the Vikings for the 2015 season. The Twin Cities region is about nine hours by car from his home in Kansas, where his mother still lives.
“It has been nice to be back in Minnesota. It is a place I am familiar with,” Hill said. “There are a lot of familiar faces in the building. It is a good location and a good work environment.”
In the first week of this season he guided Minnesota to a win over Tennessee by a score of 25-16 under head Mike Zimmer. He was 18 of 33 for 236 yards after starter Teddy Bridgewater was injured before the season.
“We were able to get some things going in the passing game with some sustained drives,” he said. “We did not get as many points as we would have liked.”
“I thought Shaun did well,” Zimmer told reporters after that game. “One of the things I told him going into the ball game was you don't have to be anybody else.”
Now he is the backup to Sam Bradford, who led Minnesota to a 17-14 win over the Green Bay Packers on Sept. 18.
“I am the same guy every day. I prepare as if I am playing. I help Sam anyway I can,” said Hill, a former teammate with Bradford in St. Louis. “It is a familiar role for me.”
Zimmer told reporters he was impressed by Hill as he slid back to the reserve role.
“Shaun’s a pro’s pro,” Zimmer told reporters. “I can’t tell you how much time (Hill spent with Bradford), but I know they talk a lot when I watch them out here at practice.”
What does it take to be successful as a backup quarterback?
“For the most part it is being the same guy every day no matter what is happening around you,” Hill said. “The same attitude and same mindset (is key). The one thing I have done really well, I believe, is take mental reps very seriously. That is all I get in my game (at times). I go through the plays mentally throughout the practice. I feel I have done a very good job of staying in the game plan.”
What would he tell a young NFL quarterback who was a backup?
“I would tell them to prepare every week as if you were the starter,” Hill said. “If the opportunity presents itself you don’t have to change how you prepare. You can slide right into that role.”
Hill has learned from several starting quarterbacks during his career, including Daunte Culpepper, Gus Frerotte, Alex Smith, Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson. “All of those guys were a huge help for me,” he said.
Hill is one of several Maryland connections with the Vikings.
Another is former Terps and Minnesota linebacker E.J. Henderson, who now works with the team in the front office. Hill and Henderson were teammates at Maryland from 2000-01 and with the Vikings from 2003 to 2005.
In addition, former Maryland wide-out Stefon Diggs is in his second season in the NFL with the Vikings. He had seven catches in the win over Tennessee to start the season then had nine in the win over the Packers. Diggs, from Good Counsel in Montgomery County, was the first Vikings rookie to lead the team in catches when he had 52 last year.
“He is obviously a special talent,” Hill said. “It has really been fun to watch him grow. I got a lot of reps with him last season.”
Hill started a career-high 10 games with the Detroit Lions in 2010 and ended up throwing for 2,686 yards and 16 touchdowns as he took over for the injured Matthew Stafford.
The former Maryland star played for the San Francisco 49ers in 2006 under Norv Turner, now the offensive coordinator for the Vikings. He was the NFC offensive player of the year for his efforts with the 49ers against St. Louis on Nov. 16, 2008 and he was the 2011 Detroit Lions Ed Block Courage Award winner.
Hill played in the final game at the Metrodome in Minnesota while with Detroit in 20123. He started 14 games in a row while with the 49ers from 2008 to 2009. He played in NFL Europa in Amsterdam in 2003 and that helped him gain experience to earn a foothold in the NFL.
Hill earned a degree in Kinesiology from Maryland and he works with Shaun Hill PASS (Parsons Area Support System) and the Parsons Community Foundation. He is married to wife Ashton, the couple has two children and they have lived in the Ozarks area for Missouri for more than 10 years.
He has not been back to College Park for several years but would like to reconnect with the football program when his NFL days are done.
How long would he like to play?
“I talk it over with my wife after every season and I have the last two or three years,” Hill said. “We come together and make a decision. It has been ‘Let’s do it again.’ Then it is full go.”