Arizona Wildcats receiver Austin Hill remembers going up for the ball, barely touching the ball … and then nothing.
This was the Oregon game on Sept. 24. He was trying to bring down a deep, high pass from Nick Foles, when Ducks safety John Boyett lowered his shoulder into Hill’s helmet, slamming the redshirt freshman onto the turf.
“The next thing I remember is sitting on the bench,” Hill said. “Yeah, that’s probably going to be a permanent gap.”
For as scary as it looked — Hill stayed on the ground for a few minutes before being helped up and off the field — he said he started to recover his bearings within about 15 minutes. He ended up being cleared for action the day before last Saturday’s USC game, in which he caught five passes for 57 yards.
It’s been a mostly memorable season for Hill, a redshirt freshman who is helping in a deep receiving corps and who represents the future of the position after seniors Juron Criner, David Douglas, David Roberts and Gino Crump move on.
Hill has 14 receptions for 209 yards and two touchdowns, the bulk of that coming in the second game against Oklahoma State, when he filled for Criner (appendectomy). Hill had eight catches for 128 yards.
“I think I’m not afraid to make mistakes,” said Hill, who is 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds.
“Most people think since I’m a redshirt freshman and haven’t played at the college level that I would be a little afraid out there. But Oklahoma State, I wasn’t afraid at all. I didn’t care who was out on the field. I just have to do the best I can do.
“Whoever they put in front of me, so be it.”
Saturday, he’ll be in front of an Oregon State secondary that has three first-year starters and is ranked 114th out of 120 teams in passing efficiency defense. (Arizona, by the way, is 116th in pass efficiency defense.)
Hill comes from Roosevelt High in Corona, Calif., where he was teammates with Arizona redshirt receiver Tyler Slavin. Hill averaged nearly 26 yards on his 45 receptions as a senior.
“He’s pretty mature for a guy his age, mentally,” said receivers coach Dave Nichol. “That’s the biggest difference between him and other guys his age. That is what helps him. And so far he has shown to be somewhat tough.”
“Yep,” Nichol said.
Acquiring the rest of that toughness is something to work on, as well as the usual things for a young receiver — blocking, better route-running, playing hard all the time.
Nichol added that he likes the way Hill “handles his business on and off the field,” explaining that the receiver can take criticism, is able to handle praise without his ego swelling too big, shows up on time for everything and even dresses right in dress-code situations.
“All that matters,” Nichol said.
It’s a crowded competition at outside receiver, and Hill’s time could wane if Criner — slowed by the appendectomy and a hand injury suffered against Oregon — is back to his usual self. But Hill can contribute and should continue to post a productive freshman season.
“The better he practices, the more he is going to play. I told him that,” Nichol said. “That is how we operate. We’ll find ways to get you on the field.”