College Sports

Belleville West graduate hopes to turn heads at NFL Combine

Belleville West graduate and former Wyoming running back Brian Hill competes against Nevada during the 2016 season. Hill was invited to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis and ir projected as a potential mid- to late-round draft pick.
Belleville West graduate and former Wyoming running back Brian Hill competes against Nevada during the 2016 season. Hill was invited to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis and ir projected as a potential mid- to late-round draft pick. AP

During his seventh-grade year, Brian Hill first entertained thoughts of playing in the NFL.

Unlike many young football players, the Belleville West graduate and University of Wyoming All-American is going to get a chance to make that dream a reality.

“I had a great little season that year,” said Hill, Wyoming’s all-time leading rusher and scorer who begins his pro auditions Tuesday at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. “That’s when I felt like I was on another level than some people, and if I kept working hard, I could make it happen.

“My goal then was to be the best player on the field, and I’m not going to change a thing in the NFL.”

The 6-foot-1, 219-pound Hill is part of a strong running back class for the 2017 NFL Draft. He is part of a list topped by LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Florida State back Dalvin Cook and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey.

Many online draft projections have Hill as a potential pick in rounds four through six. He is treating the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium like a job interview — one he is prepared to ace with his on-field performance and off-field intelligence and demeanor.

He will be measured and judged by 32 NFL teams. He will be poked and prodded and interviewed by coaches and management. Hill also will undergo psychological testing like the rest of the prospects.

Since Jan. 2 he has been training for the combine at Pete Bommarito’s Performance Systems near Miami, Fla. It’s an investment to be sure, but one that can pay off at the NFL draft April 27-29 in Philadelphia.

A better 40-yard dash time or better performances in several of the six main combine drills could potentially be worth millions of dollars. A few tenths of a second lower could move Hill, a physical running back known for his production and durability, much higher on some teams’ draft boards.

It gives me a chance to show what I can do against some of the bigger names in the country. They get to compare us themselves with their own eyes.

Brian Hill

Hill has been attending training sessions for eight to 10 hours a day, six days a week. He is leaving nothing to chance with a shot at the NFL on the line.

“It gives me a chance to show what I can do against some of the bigger names in the country,” said Hill, who set Wyoming school records this season by running for 1,860 yards and 22 TDs. “They get to compare us themselves with their own eyes. I got here with hard work and my love for the game, so I don’t plan on changing anything.

“I’ll keep going.”

Hill is quite familiar with another former metro-east player who will be watched closely at the combine, USC cornerback and former Belleville resident Adoree’ Jackson.

Jackson is considered among the top cornerback prospects in the 2017 draft. It may not be too hard to believe that Jackson and Hill used to face each other when Hill played for the Belleville Little Devils and Jackson played for the Belleville Little Knights.

“Me and him talk from time to time,” Hill said. “We know where we’re from; we played against each other in little league all our lives. I’ve seen him blowing up in high school going to California and then at USC.

“He knows where he comes from: the 618. We all do. We’re proud of where we come from, and we’re going to represent.”

In just three seasons at Wyoming, Hill ran for 4,287 yards to break the school’s career rushing record. That includes 1,860 yards as a junior and 1,631 yards as a sophomore.

I just want my shot. I’m looking for a team to pick me up, and I’ll do the rest.

Brian Hill

His 35 career rushing TDs are also a school record, and Hill ran for 100 or more yards 20 times in his final 31 college games. He surpassed 200 yards rushing six times and is known for a punishing, physical style that perhaps isn’t too surprising after his days playing safety at Belleville West.

Hill wouldn’t reveal his 40-yard dash time, but hopes to get it below 4.5 or 4.4 seconds. Every tenth of a second counts for running backs.

“I’m ready for the 40,” Hill said. “People have been telling me that all the scouts are saying that I’m slow, so I’m ready to go there and run and see what happens. I’m pretty confidence that I’m not slow.”

Hill didn’t get a lot of prime-time games at Wyoming, but plenty of video and highlight reels are out there. A huge fan of the NFL and the draft, Hill is overjoyed to be a part of the process.

“I’m definitely looking forward to it,” Hill said. “I’ve been watching the draft for years now, and I get to finally put myself in those guys’ shoes that I was watching. If anything, it’s just an anxious feeling right now.

“I just want my shot. I’m looking for a team to pick me up, and I’ll do the rest.”

NFL running backs come in all shapes and sizes. There are big, durable backs, speed backs and third-down specialists known for their running and pass-catching skills.

“I’ve been watching the combine for the past four or five years, so I pretty much know what to expect going in,” Hill said. “There’s going to be a big interview process at the combine, which I can’t wait for. I will love to sit down and talk to the coaches. There’s going to be some outlandish questions at times that you can’t really be ready for. I’ll have to answer quickly.”

The metro-east was represented in the Super Bowl when New England Patriots rookie, Edwardsville graduate and former Madison resident Vincent Valentine helped his team win the championship.

Cahokia graduate Terron Armstead is another local NFL standout as the starting left tackle for the New Orleans Saints. Armstead came from Arkansas-Pine Bluff, so he’s proof that the size of the college doesn’t matter to NFL scouts looking to fill roster talent.

“They’re paving the way, and me and Adoree’ are the next ones in line,” Hill said. “They’re trying to fulfill their dreams like we are.”

Norm Sanders: 618-239-2454, @NormSanders

Inside the NFL Scouting Combine

From NFL.com, here’s a look at the primary measurable drills players are asked to perform in during the NFL Combine:

  • 40-yard dash: The 40-yard dash is the marquee event at the combine. It’s kind of like the 100-meters at the Olympics: It’s all about speed, explosion and watching skilled athletes run great times. These athletes are timed at 10, 20 and 40-yard intervals. What the scouts are looking for is an explosion from a static start.
  • Bench press: The bench press is a test of strength — 225 pounds, as many reps as the athlete can get. What the NFL scouts are also looking for is endurance. Anybody can do a max one time, but what the bench press tells the pro scouts is how often the athlete frequented his college weight room for the last 3-5 years.
  • Vertical jump: The vertical jump is all about lower-body explosion and power. The athlete stands flat-footed and they measure his reach. It is important to accurately measure the reach, because the differential between the reach and the flag the athlete touches is his vertical jump measurement.
  • Broad jump: The broad jump is like being in gym class back in junior high school. Basically, it is testing an athlete’s lower-body explosion and lower-body strength. The athlete starts out with a stance balanced and then he explodes out as far as he can. It tests explosion and balance, because he has to land without moving.
  • 3-cone drill: The 3-cone drill tests an athlete’s ability to change directions at a high speed. Three cones in an L-shape. He starts from the starting line, goes five yards to the first cone and back. Then, he turns, runs around the second cone, runs a weave around the third cone, which is the high point of the L, changes directions, comes back around that second cone and finishes.
  • Shuttle run: The short shuttle is the first of the cone drills. It is known as the 5-10-5. What it tests is the athlete’s lateral quickness and explosion in short areas. The athlete starts in the three-point stance, explodes out five yards to his right, touches the line, goes back 10 yards to his left, left hand touches the line, pivot, and he turns five more yards and finishes.
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