Arizona Wildcats receiver Austin Hill has been cleared to practice, which quickly invites a couple of questions:
When can he play?
Will he come back next season?
One step at a time.
“He will actually put on the cleats, put on the pads and go through individual (drills),” coach Rich Rodriguez said during his weekly Monday press conference.
“His doctor from back home cleared him to take that next step. I don’t know what that means as far as his availability to play. He’s been out there running around with the trainers most of the time. Starting this week, he’ll be doing some stuff with (receivers) Coach (Tony) Dews, so that’s good to see.”
Hill, a junior, suffered a torn ACL late in spring practice after a breakout 2012 season. He caught 81 passes for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns, earning second-team All-Pac-12 honors. He was one of 10 semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s top receiver.
If Hill is ready at some point — whether in the final three regular season games or for a potential bowl game — he’ll definitely play. This season counts as a year of eligibility whether he plays or not because he already redshirted as a freshman.
“Again, cleared to practice and do individual is not the same as cleared for a game,” Rodriguez said.
“I don’t make those decisions. The trainers and the doctors do. But Austin is stronger than he has ever been. And I think he’ll be faster.”
Hill, 6-foot-3, is the go-to receiver the Wildcats have mostly lacked this season, although contributions from true freshmen Samajie Grant (36 catches, 271 yards) and Nate Phillips (29 for 409, six TDs) have been valuable.
“You’re talking about a guy who’s one of the best in the league, as far as catching the ball, understanding the coverages and where to go,” Rodriguez said of Hill.
“Austin has worked really, really hard. And he looks great.”
The ACL injury might delay Hill’s plans for the NFL. Back in the spring, fellow receiver and former high school teammate Tyler Slavin (no longer with the Wildcats) said, “I know he had big plans of going to the NFL after this year.”
Rodriguez said he hasn’t talked to Hill about his intentions for 2014, adding it doesn’t hurt to send paperwork to the NFL draft advisory board after the season. That committee returns information on a prospect’s likely draft status.
During his rehab, Hill has been vocal in the receivers’ meeting room, helping young guys like Grant and Phillips.
“He is very good at giving that past experience,” said senior receiver/tight end Terrence Miller.
“He has been there before, and he has done some of the things the coaches ask these guys to do. He has always been a help.”