UF's hard-hitting Will Hill ready for starting role

University of Florida's Will Hill fields questions from the media Thursday, August 5, 2010.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Sunday, August 22, 2010 at 10:43 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, August 22, 2010 at 10:43 p.m.

Even as a five-star recruit out of East Orange, N.J., junior Florida safety Will Hill said he didn't expect to start overnight.

"It was going to take a process," Hill said.

Earning a reputation as a hard-hitter on special teams as a true freshman, Hill worked his way up to nickelback as a sophomore and occasionally started at strong safety.

But Hill enters this season as UF's projected starting free safety, in line for the job after Major Wright declared early for the NFL Draft.

"I feel the same responsibility as when Major was here last year," Hill said. "Just become a leader and help the team win the next game."

The 6-foot-1, 207-pound Hill has appeared in 27 games, with five career starts. In that span, Hill has two career interceptions, 90 tackles and 1.5 sacks.

Florida co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach Chuck Heater said Hill put together an excellent offseason, both physically and mentally, to prepare himself for the responsibility of starting.

"He's trying to have a great year," Heater said. "We played him in a couple of different spots which wasn't always the best for him necessarily, but it was where we were at. We played him as a backup safety, but then he really played our nickel and it was a difficult thing to train for both those things."

Hill first showed signs of his hard-hitting and playmaking ability on UF's kickoff team as a true freshman. He led UF with 22 special teams tackles that season. In the BCS title game against Oklahoma, Hill combined for three tackles on special teams and at nickelback.

"If you don't start or have a mark on special teams you can't play here," Hill said. "So that helped me mature and become a better free safety."

From there, Hill worked into a rotation with Wright and starting strong safety Ahmad Black during his sophomore year. Hill said he learned from both Wright and Black to stay patient and not jump routes. With Wright gone, Hill will now face the challenge of being at the back of UF's young defense.

"I've been looking forward to it for a while now," Hill said. "I just have to sit back and do my job and everything will come to me."

Florida's secondary will need to replace both Wright and cornerback Joe Haden, a first-round NFL Draft pick of the Cleveland Browns. Black is back at starting strong safety and junior Janoris Jenkins will move into Haden's role as the number one cornerback. Redshirt sophomore Jeremy Brown, true freshman Josh Shaw and senior Moses Jenkins are battling for the second cornerback spot.

True freshman Matt Elam, a five-star recruit out of West Palm Beach, also figures to join Hill and Black in a three-player rotation at safety.

"We still have Black and Janoris, and with us three and our wisdom at the secondary just giving it off to Jeremy and the other guys, they can come along faster," Hill said. "We should be the same, if not better, secondary than last year."

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