Aug 17, 2012
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, IL - Head coach Dale Lennon has been preaching a "team-first" mindset within Saluki Football this season, and junior quarterback A.J. Hill is a perfect example of the benefits of this approach.
Hill transferred from FBS school Northern Illinois prior to the 2011 season, hoping for more playing time and to be closer to his hometown of Du Quoin. He was beaten out for the starting job by Paul McIntosh last fall, and this year he sits behind starter Kory Faulkner.
Instead of pouting, Hill's goal has been to make everyone around him better.
Hill led the team's independent workouts during the summer, because Faulkner was sidelined with a knee injury. He organized four passing sessions per week and even brought the entire team together twice weekly.
"I just knew it was something that had to be done," Hill said. "It was unfortunate that Kory got hurt, but I knew our team needed four days a week throwing to get that timing down. We had the whole team out there a couple days a week, going through a script of plays."
Although Lennon hasn't announced the team captains for the season, Hill is one of a handful of players with a "C" on his practice jersey. It's evident you don't need to be a starter to make a valuable contribution to the 2012 Saluki football team.
"Last year, there was competition at certain positions, and I don't know how well some guys handled that," Hill explained. "This year, there are competitions, but when you get off the field or in the locker room, that guy is your teammate and your brother. I think that's what Coach Lennon has been pushing, and a lot of guys are buying into it."
"There's no reason for me to come out here and say, `Kory's the starter,'" Hill said. "I have to push him and make him better."
Two days ago, Faulkner tweaked his knee during practice, and the offense didn't miss a beat during the next 24 hours with Hill at the helm.
"I watch every play and analyze film just like I'm the starting quarterback," he said. "I know I have to be ready at a moment's notice."
The 6-foot-2 lefty combines a strong arm with the athletic ability to make plays with his feet. He's known as a bit of a gunslinger, in fact.
"I've always been considered a gamer," Hill said. "When things are live, I just let loose and play. Last year, maybe I was over-thinking things too much. This year, I'm going out and having fun and playing football."
He keeps in touch on a daily basis with his older brother, Nick, who was cut by the Green Bay Packers earlier this summer. Having one of the all-time greatest Saluki quarterbacks in your corner is a valuable asset.
"Nick tells me to have a short memory and just control what I can control," Hill said. "Do what you do and it's going to take care of itself."
Hill believes the selfless approach the team is taking will pay dividends on the field.
"We're a confident team," he said. "We have a chip on our shoulder. Guys are really buying into the team mentality. I think we have a little swagger to us when we walk out here."
After a night of heavy rain, the team practiced on the stadium turf in helmets and shoulder pads-only on Friday.
QB Kory Faulkner returned to practice and was as sharp as ever. During one Team series he used play-action and hit WR David Lewis in stride on a deep post. On the same drive, he connected with Lewis on a 10-yard out and a skinny post, and the timing was perfect on both passes. Later, he found TE MyCole Pruitt on a seam route with another precise throw that went for a touchdown. Hill had a solid day passing, as well. His flag route to RB Steve Strother was beautifully executed.
The Salukis will have their second full-contact scrimmage tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. at the stadium. Check out our Saluki Football Twitter page for live updates at SIU_Football.