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Dooley: Tale of two unlikely Saturday starters

Pat Dooley
Gator Sports
South Carolina quarterback Collin Hill (15) leaves the field after a loss to Tennessee last Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium.

The last time Collin Hill walked into The Swamp, everything was different than what it will be Saturday. Different team, different environment, different feeling.

Different quarterback on the other sideline.

Hill was a back-up quarterback in 2018 at Colorado State playing against the Florida Gators, and it was Dan Mullen's third game. Mullen was coming off a loss to Kentucky, and the vibe was hardly delicious in Gainesville.

See, told you it was different than what it will be at noon Saturday.

"It will be different," said Hill, the starting quarterback for South Carolina. "It was a really fun environment two years ago. It can get rocking in that place."

Obviously, a spaced-out crowd will have a difficult time getting the place rocking, but Saturday's game isn't about the fans or the stands or where the cheerleaders are located or how long you can nurse your fries so you can leave your mask down.

Today is about two quarterbacks who — at the start of last football season — probably didn't see themselves as the starter for this game.

We all know the wonderful story of Kyle Trask, who everyone figured had the transfer portal on speed dial, but instead hung around hoping for a chance. When that chance came, he pushed all of his chips to the middle of the table and keeps drawing the right face cards.  

But before opportunity knocked, Trask had to deal with two broken feet, one before the 2017 season and the second right before he was probably going to start against South Carolina (ironic, eh?) in 2018.

If I was writing this on Twitter, Collin Hill would tell Trask to "hold my beer." (The kids love that expression.)

Hill has had three ACL tears, all on his left leg. Each time, that meant major surgery, major rehab and a major reason to move on to something else.

"Even after the third one (during the 2019 season), I knew what it was as soon as it happened and knew what it was going to take to come back," Hill said. "A lot of work. But I had great people to work with and a great support of my family and great faith."

Hill also had a new team to play for. He grew up in Spartanburg, S.C., and followed Mike Bobo to Columbia. Bobo had been his coach at Colorado State and is now Will Muschamp's offensive coordinator.

When Hill made his decision his sister Courtney, a student at South Carolina, started to cry.

"It was pretty emotional for everybody," he said. "I grew up going to those games."

He wouldn't have a spring, but who did? The incumbent quarterback Ryan Hilinski had established himself as a popular player on campus.

But it was Hill who won the job.

"I do think people were surprised," Hill said.

In a way, it shouldn't have been a surprise because Hill had spent so much time in Bobo's system.

"He’s a mature guy, he’s competitive, he’s got toughness, he does understand where to go with the football in that offense," said Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. "I would think his demeanor is something they want in that huddle as they try to be a physical team and establish the run.”

That demeanor showed up on the first day. All Hill had to do was tell the stories of the three ACL tears and it was a badge of courage.

"As soon as he walked through that door the first time," Muschamp said, "he had a tremendous amount of toughness about him."

And so he returns to The Swamp where his Colorado State team lost in 2018 and Hill was 2-of-8 as a back-up quarterback still recovering from surgery. He would eventually win the job that year and then, well, we've talked about ACL tears so much your knees are probably hurting.

Yes, it will be different. The last time Hill and Bobo were here, Trask (wearing No. 1 at the time) played the final three plays at quarterback handing the ball off to Dameon Pierce (one for a touchdown).

Now Kyle Trask is getting Heisman Trophy buzz.

"I know his story," Hill said. "We are kind of similar in that we have been through a lot."

Maybe that's why just playing Saturday means so much to both of them.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.