|National Football League|
Giants S Will Hill trying to make up for lost time
By TOM CANAVAN
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) When Will Hill left New Jersey's high school ranks and landed at the University of Florida, there wasn't much doubt that he would soon play in the NFL.
He was the top-rated player in the Garden State in 2007 and ranked among the nation's top defensive backs. He had everything: size, speed, athletic ability and instincts.
Stardom was going to be his ... until it all went to his head. He stopped working, lived off his laurels and made mistakes. He declared for the NFL draft after his junior season. But his reputation dipped so low, there were no takers.
Out of football for a year, though, Hill has turned things around. And the safety might be the biggest surprise at training camp of the New York Giants (No. 3 in the AP Pro32).
Hill has been making plays in the secondary since camp opened more than a week ago, and he has been taking snaps with the first-team defense as a nickel back. It was the first position he learned at Florida, where he was a fixture on defense and special teams for three seasons.
"I have the mentality, because I wasn't drafted, (that) I have to prove myself to not only the coaches but also the players that I belong here," Hill said during a lunch break. "So that's how I just go out every day and attack it, full-on."
It's a much different approach for Hill than about a year ago, when he tended to blame others for his failures. Now he knows where to point the blame.
"Me. Me," he said when asked about messing up a life that was seemingly headed for stardom. "Just thinking too highly of myself and thinking, `Oh, I am at the top again, nothing can happen to me and I can do whatever I want.' And I paid for it."
The Florida football program suspended him for an unspecified violation of team rules after his junior season. His Twitter account contained references to drug use and meeting with prostitutes, although he blamed that on a hacker. His average play was below expectations and a disappointment to the Gators.
It all ended up with a lack of employment, at least on the NFL level.
Hill, who starred at St. Peter's Prep in Jersey City, N.J., admitted there was a point when he wondered whether his career might be over. However, Lance Adams, a close friend, reminded him that he was meant to play and he had a chance to overcome his setback. A major part of the solution was Hill's decision to start working with former NFL stars Ray Buchanan and Sam Madison. They pushed him to work harder and never stop pushing.
Hill considered joining the Arena Football League earlier this year, but when a couple of NFL teams started looking at him, he hesitated. He tried out for the Giants at a rookie and free-agent minicamp in May, and later signed with the Super Bowl champions.
At this point, his chances of making the team look good.
Hill, 22, has no intention of slowing down, either. He rarely takes the trip from his dorm room at the University at Albany to come to lunch. He is too busy studying his playbook.
"I work on everything, every aspect of my game," he said. "I always come in early in the mornings to get with the special teams coaches and my position coaches to work on everything, because I'm playing both safety positions and the nickel position. So, it's a lot for me to come in and learn and also think about my kids, because I have four boys I have to go out and provide for.
"So, I always think about them before anything."
The only positive about being away from football for a year was it allowed Hill to spend more time with his children. He even had time to teach them how to play football. All along, Hill refused to watch the sport on television, saying he couldn't stomach it.
Now he can't get enough.
"I play with just a little bit more oomph because I had dark times," Hill said. "I know what's on the other side, and I don't want to go back."
Hill's first chance to show the NFL what he can do will come on Friday when the Giants open the preseason in Jacksonville.
Things could change, of course, but coach Tom Coughlin likes what he sees so far.
"He's getting more reps in that regard," Coughlin said Tuesday of Hill's play with the first-team, nickel package. "He comes in there some in the nickel, and what we call "bison," which is another group. He's in there. He's had some opportunities and he's getting more."
Follow Tom Canavan on Twitter: http://twitter.com/APTCan
Online: http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL
Updated August 7, 2012