redshirt sophomore outside linebacker Don Hill knows the drudges of the doghouse. He’s been there before. But he also knows the path to redemption, which he is seeking for a second time after being suspended from the team during the spring for an off-the-field incident.
Last year, Hill grinded his way back from an offseason, off-the-field issue. His hard work and consistency in practice enabled him to slowly re-trudge up the mountain after the avalanche of a DUI arrest in his hometown during USC’s winter break.
Hill was summoned off the bench to play special teams in November against Oregon. A week later, Hill was promoted to second string and earned his first defensive playing time in conference play. He participated in a career-high 30 plays, including 16 on defense. He made three tackles, including half a tackle for loss. He earned playing time in the final four games of the season and was named USC's defensive service team player of the year for helping to prepare the offense week in and week out.
When senior rush end Scott Felix was suspended for testing positive for a banned substance, it appeared Hill would have a chance to compete for significant playing time along with Porter Gustin as the rush end position morphed into the ‘Predator’ spot in new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast’s defense.
Instead, head coach Clay Helton announced after the first spring practice that Hill had been suspended after “a violation of team rules. Hill missed the entire spring. He rejoined the team during the summer, but now is in competition with Jabari Ruffin and a handful of talented young players to back up Gustin.
“I've just got to come, show up everyday and work my butt off,” Hill said. “The coaches are going to take care of the rest from there.”
Hill is trying to find the positive from an unenviable position that he put himself in.
“It was actually a great learning experience,” Hill said of the suspension. “Got to take some time off and look at football from a different aspect in the training room, in the weight room and then in the film room learning.”
Hill, who looks to be refocus on being a creator of havoc on the field and not off, is quietly off to a good start in fall camp. Though he’s running with the second and third team, he’s taken advantage of the inexperienced tackles opposing him to become an oft visitor of the backfield even though he’s still learning the new defense.
“In the Predator position, I’m just taking reps right there and trying to learn as much as possible. Get all the reps under my belt during camp as I can.”
Described by his previous defensive coordinator as “very, very physical” and “violent,” Hill has been freed up to attack even more by his new coordinator.
“We get to play a lot faster because the defense is simpler. We get to use our athleticism and go out there and play,” Hill said with a wide grin over the weekend after finally getting in full pads where his physicality plays up.
“Everyone is excited, especially on the defense. You get an opportunity to put the pads on. Coach Helton let us go, go live and get a couple of hits in there to see what it feels like.”
It’s the song of the pads popping and the feeling of sending a shockwave through an offensive playmaker that helps to drive Hill and brought him back to the Trojan team even though he knows he has to trek a rocky road to the redemption of being back in the lineup on an autumn Saturday.
“It feels great to get back out here. This is my home. It’s where I'm most comfortable.”
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