Aug. 31, 2005
Editor’s Note: The following story will appear in the Clemson vs. Texas A&M game program along with many other player features and stories. Be sure to pick up your copy on Saturday.
By Kyle Tucker
Growing up in Saint George, SC, Clemson cornerback Tye Hill listened to the critics. “People told me when I was younger that I would be like every other athlete we had from Saint George,” said Hill. “They said I would turn into nothing but a memory. I just kept quiet and shook my head, and used that as motivation.”
Hill has been playing football for as long as he can remember, and recalls the makeshift uniform he created as a youngster. “I used to get as much tissue as I could find and stuff it under my shirt to make it look like shoulder pads,” laughed Hill. “I was usually the youngest of the kids that played football in my neighborhood, and I think that helped make me tougher.”
Playing at Woodland High School in Saint George, Hill busted onto the scene as a junior with a 270-yard rushing performance at Daniel High School. Hill scored on touchdown runs of 80 and 85 yards in that game, and it is a night he remembers fondly.
“That was my most memorable high school game,” recalled Hill. “After that game, I started to get a lot of attention from many different schools.”
Among those schools was Clemson, and Hill listed the energetic Tiger coaching staff as one of his reasons for coming to Tigertown. “The coaching staff here was young and I felt like I could relate to them. They also told me that I could come here and play running back, and a lot of schools were telling me they wanted me to play cornerback. I wanted to run the ball, and I also wanted to stay fairly close to home. Clemson was the perfect fit for me.”
After red-shirting in 2001, Hill was ready to help the Tiger offense, but had to stay patient behind senior Bernard Rambert. The 2002 season’s sixth game was a road trip to Charlottesville to play Virginia, and Hill made one of his first memories as a Tiger. With Clemson trailing the Cavaliers 6-3 and time ticking down before halftime, Hill took a Willie Simmons handoff and scampered 32 yards for his first career touchdown.
Hill’s rushing attempts were mostly limited for the rest of the 2002 season, with the exception of the North Carolina game. Carrying 14 times, Hill gained 105 yards and scored a touchdown. Combined with Rambert’s 106-yard day, it is the only time Clemson has had two 100-yard rushing performances in the same game since 1996.
In the winter of 2003, Hill’s career as a sprinter on the Tiger track team began to flourish. During the winter and spring of 2004, Hill won the ACC Championship in the 60m indoors, and the 100m outdoors. He joined former Tiger and Olympic Gold Medalist Shawn Crawford as one of seven Clemson sprinters in history to win both league titles in the same year. Hill was also an All-American in track in 2003 as a member of Clemson’s NCAA runner-up 4x100m relay team. He enjoyed running track, but realized something had to change if he was going to continue to juggle football and track.
“I enjoyed being a sprinter, but I knew that if I was going to be a running back, I would have add some weight,” explained Hill. “That probably would have ended my sprinting days, so I looked at some alternatives. Football was what I wanted to do the most, and cornerback seemed like a good choice for me. I talked about it with my parents and the coaches, and I used Terence Newman as an example. He was a track guy and a cornerback (from Kansas State) that ended up being a high draft pick. My goal when I came to Clemson was to go to the NFL, and I finally realized that my best shot at reaching that would be as a cornerback.”
For the defensive coordinator at the time, John Lovett, the decision by Hill to change positions was a welcome one. Lovett had recruited Hill two years earlier while he was still at Auburn. The position he wanted to have Hill play…cornerback, of course.
“To be honest, Coach Lovett was mad at me at first,” chuckled Hill. “He had recruited me earlier to play that position, but it had taken me a while to realize he was right.”
Many football analysts list cornerback as the toughest of any position on the field to play. For someone always looking for new challenges, the idea of playing one of those spots opposite freshman All-American Justin Miller was a great one to Hill.
Miller had one of the most productive seasons by a true-freshman defensive back in Clemson history, and Hill knew that if he was to earn a starting position, other teams would likely test his skills. Never was this more apparent than in the 2003 Florida State game.
The Seminoles came into Death Valley on a cold November night with a #3 national ranking and an 8-1 record. According to Hill, it was no secret that their gameplan that evening was to attack his side.
“That game was on such a big stage because of their high ranking,” remembered Hill. “I had heard all week that they would be coming at me, and I welcomed that challenge. I feel like when I am challenged, I play my best. I was very excited for that game.”
A play late in the first quarter of that game was a career changer for Hill. With Clemson leading 3-0 and Florida State driving, Hill picked off Chris Rix in front of the Florida State bench.
“I like to say that I felt comfortable at cornerback a few weeks earlier against Virginia (a 30-27 Tiger overtime victory), but when I made that interception, my confidence grew, and that is when I finally began to grow up as a cornerback,” said Hill. “I had no choice that night, because if I didn’t play well, we would have lost that game.”
Clemson went on to its highest-ranked win in school history that night with a 26-10 victory. It was the first in a series of four games against Florida State, Duke, South Carolina, and Tennessee in which the Tigers were 4-0 and outscored the four opponents 156-48. Hill played a key role in the Tigers’ turnaround in 2003 that ended with a #22 national ranking.
In the 2004 season, Hill tied the Clemson record for pass breakups in a season with 21. Teams often found that going away from Miller and towards Hill was not always the best strategy.
“I honestly loved the fact that teams wanted to challenge me,” remarked Hill. “I felt that I could cover any receiver teams put in front of me because I was confident in myself, but more importantly I was confident that I had practiced hard. Every day in practice I tried to go out and make myself a better football player, and I was ready for every situation we could run into.”
Midway through the season, teams began to challenge Miller just as much as they challenged Hill. The two combined to give Clemson quite a duo at the two cornerback positions, and were a key reason the Tigers finished 2004 with another strong finish. Clemson won five of its last six games in 2004, with the defense yielding only 12.1 points per game over that stretch. The Tigers also finished ranked 11th nationally in pass efficiency defense.
Entering the 2005 season, Hill envisions a new set of challenges not only for himself, but the entire team. It is his senior season, and one that Hill looks forward to with a high level of anticipation.
“This season is going to be fun, and our team has worked really hard to be ready for it,” explained Hill. “I think a lot about how teams are going to attack us, and I have to be ready for that. Even though I have had some success in the past, teams are going to continue to come after me, because they will think if they can break me down, then they can break down our whole defense. It is a challenge that I want, and it is one that I practice hard to be ready for every day.”
Hill tries to share as much knowledge as he can with Clemson’s younger defensive backs. “I try to encourage our other corners and safeties as much as I can. I hope that I can show them that I practice hard, and hopefully they will too when they see me. I tell them that you have to take every snap in practice as though it was in a game. Every step, every drill, every part of practice, you have to treat just as though it was a game. We have to prepare ourselves mentally and physically, because 80,000 people screaming is a lot different than 105 on the field at a practice.”
With a position change and some big wins during the past three seasons, he has made memories at Clemson that he says will last a lifetime. However, there are three moments in his career that stick out the most to this point.
“My first touchdown run at Virginia is something I’ll always remember. If I were to make a list of my favorites, I would then list the interception in the 2003 Florida State game. Finally, the 2002 game at North Carolina when I had 100 yards rushing is another highlight. I hope my senior year is my most memorable, and hope our team can win the ACC title.”
Hill, who wears #8, also pointed to the relationships he has made with teammates, both current and former, as something he will always remember about playing at Clemson. “I get along with all of my teammates, and I try to talk to everybody on the team when I get a chance. My closest friends have been Airese Currie and Kyle Browning. Now that I have switched to defense, I have gotten to know Jamaal Fudge better, and we hang out a lot more. I also was able to get better acquainted with Sergio Gilliam and C.J. Gaddis this past spring.”
Combined with his teammates, it has been the coaching staff that has helped make Hill feel as if Clemson was his second home. He has had three different positions coaches in five years, but says all three have had a positive impact on his life, both on and off the field.
“I had a great relationship with Coach (Rick) Stockstill that we formed when he recruited me, and I was sad when he left,” reflected Hill. “I have a great relationship with Coach (Burton) Burns, and even though he isn’t my position coach, we still get along well. Coach Lovett and I had our times where we didn’t see eye to eye, but he turned me into the player I am today, and I thank him for that. Coach (David) Blackwell and I tease each other a lot, as do Coach Bowden and I. Coach (Vic) Koenning has taught me a lot about the game as well.”
Hill points to his parents as having the biggest influence on his life growing up, and his father (John) comes to every game. When asked if his mother (Glennie) makes it to the games, it is a different story.
“My mom will be the first to tell you that I am hard-headed,” smiled the fifth-year senior. “She is a good mother, and she worries about me sometimes. My mother does not want me to get hurt, so sometimes it’s hard for her to watch, whether it is football or track.
“In high school, she would work in the concession stand so she would not have to watch. My father, however, would do whatever he had to do to make it to a game, and I love having him here to watch me play.”
Saint George can be proud of Tye Hill, as the town has watched him grow from an undersized tailback to a big-play cornerback during his five years at Clemson. Whether she watches or keeps her eyes closed during games, Mrs. Glennie Hill can certainly smile and take pride in her son.
Kyle Tucker, a second-year graduate student from Cartersville, GA, is a graduate assistant in the Clemson Sports Information Office.
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