One of three edge-rushing prospects labeled a sleeper in Notre Dame’s 2014 recruiting haul, Hill was the only member of the trio to make an impact as a true freshman, playing in nine contests while notching tackles-for-loss in both of his opening appearances.
Unlike peers Jonathan Bonner and Jhonny Williams, Hill has not grown into a true defensive end’s body since, and while that pair redshirted last fall, Hill experienced trial-by-fire as part of defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s youth-filled defense.
Irish Illustrated continues its ND A-to-Z series with Hill, a sophomore expected to provide pressure off the edge in 2015.
Hill picks up where he left off in mid-September 2014, serving as the team’s Dime package pass-rush specialist. But rather than only making an initial splash, Hill makes a weekly habit of harassing opposing passers, wreaking havoc both off the edge and in the myriad blitz schemes featured by VanGorder.
Numbers along the lines of five sacks and as many QB Hurries result, with Hill impacting multiple close contests as a presence to be accounted for by opposing offensive coordinators.
Hill’s disappearing act from Game Four vs. Syracuse through season’s end (three DNP-Coach’s Decision and just two total tackles) last fall proves to be a portent of things to come. He fails to provide a pass-rushing punch and as a man without a position – too small at present to play full time defensive end, and without the experience and polish to play Sam linebacker – Hill cedes time to classmates such as Bonner and Grant Blankenship, and to veteran competitor and fellow niche pass rusher, Doug Randolph.
Because he’s unlikely to redshirt as a true sophomore (unlikely, but not implausible), Hill would then enter Spring 2016 with just two seasons of eligibility remaining.
Hill’s 2.5 tackles for loss and QB Hurry last fall are identical to the numbers posted by 2008 freshman Darius Fleming. Fleming however recorded 20 total tackles compared to Hill’s seven and Fleming blossomed enough to start three games as a rookie.
A three-star prospect, Hill was the nation’s 64th-ranked outside linebacker prospect per Scout.com. (Fellow 2014 Irish pledges Drue Tranquill, Nile Sykes ranked No. 14 and No. 49, respectively.) His freshman year impact – however brief – put him ahead of the curve of most projections that expected a redshirt season for the raw rookie from the Lone Star State.
Hill must continually to grow his game in 2015 to remain on pace as a developing front seven athlete entering 2016, his third season at the program.
Hill’s best game to date was also his first. After failing to crack the lineup in an opening season win over Rice, Hill exploded all over rival Michigan in the second half of Notre Dame’s 31-0 victory last September. He posted three tackles including two for lost yardage -- among those were 1.5 sacks -- and all three tackles occurred on third- and/or fourth-down to stymie drives, the highlight a 4th-and-10 sack of Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner that helped seal the visitor’s first shut-out defeat since 1984.
“He's explosive. First-step explosiveness. He can come off the edge. He gets there quickly. He forces you to pull up in the pocket, can bend around the edge, a really, really good athlete.” – Kelly on Hill following his breakout effort vs. Michigan