Will Hill, a former high school star at St. Peter's Preparatory School in Jersey City, N.J., says he has lived through some "dark times" in his life. During the early portion of New York Giants training camp, however, Hill has been a beacon of light.
Trying to make the team as an undrafted free agent, Hill has been impressive. The 22-year-old safety has drawn praise from the coaching staff, and from teammates for his stellar play during the first week of practice at UAlbany.
"Everybody has been a little impressed about my play right now," Hill said recently.
Indeed they have.
"You see a real quick, well-conditioned athlete right now. He's definitely had a couple of days where he's stood out and he stands out on "teams" too.
Hill, 6-foot-1, 207 pounds, has made noticeable plays almost every day during training camp thus far. He seems to be most comfortable in the "in the box" safety role that Deon Grant played for the Giants the last two seasons. In that role, replacing a linebacker and playing close to the line of scrimmage, Hill has been a downhill force making run stops and doing well in coverage in short areas.
[Related: Big Blue View on Hill]
"Will is a guy that we all see his athletic ability. This kid has speed. He has quickness, he has burst and acceleration, and this young man has all the tools that you want as a defensive back," said safeties coach Dave Merritt.
Merritt has been particularly impressed by Hill's instincts.
"This kid has the ability to see the run. Or I like to say, see ball get ball. And this kid can see the ball and he goes and gets the ball. He's done a good job for us. Hopefully he can continue to develop. Right now, he's displaying the talents that we need," Merritt said.
Not that long ago, Hill was a troubled young man who seemed like he might have thrown his NFL opportunity away.
Coming out of high school Hill was the top-ranked high school safety in the country. He went to Florida, but ended up suspended from the team in 2010 for violating team and declared for the NFL after three years. He went undrafted, despite obvious talent. Fathering three children by the age of 20 [now four], and a history of littering his Twitter page with stories of drug use and visits with prostitues left teams not wanting anything to do with him.
The Giants were interested in Hill a year ago, but chose not to sign him. No one else wanted anything to do with Hill, either.Hill admits that he thought his shot at the NFL might never come, but that he has finally gotten with people who are helping point him in the right direction with his life.
"There's a guy, Lance Adams, my best friend, he's been with me for the past five years and he's always been in my ear like, ‘Look man, you were meant to play football. You had a little minor setback, just keep grinding and working and working,' " said Hill. "I got amongst a great set of people as in Ray Buchanan and Sam Madison. Those two guys pushed me, and kept pushing me and pushing me and I'm here now.
"I had dark times. I know what's on the other side and I don't want to go back."
The Giants brought Hill to rookie mini-camp this spring and signed him to a contract that only guaranteed him the chance he thought he might have thrown away.
With Grant having gone unsigned thus far, Terrell Thomas injured and possibly out for a good portion if not all of the season and reserve safety Tyler Sash facing a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drug policy Hill not only has a chance to make the roster but to become an integral part of the defense.
"My mindset right now is ‘Either kill or be killed.' Everybody's out here fighting for a job. So it's either, ‘Do I want that job or not?' So like I said, it's a kill or be killed mentality. I'm going to be the killer," Hill said.
If he continues to do damage to opposing offenses instead of to himself and his reputation, Hill might just have that NFL career after all.