Football

These Belleville players never faced off in high school. Now they’ll meet in the NFL.

Atlanta Falcons running back Brian Hill, a Belleville West graduate, runs a pass route during a training camp practice July 28 in Flowery Branch, Ga.
Atlanta Falcons running back Brian Hill, a Belleville West graduate, runs a pass route during a training camp practice July 28 in Flowery Branch, Ga. John Bazemore AP

Brian Hill and Chase Allen have never crossed paths on a football field, even though they graduated from Belleville’s two public high schools just two years apart.

Hill was a sophomore at West in 2011 when Allen was a senior at East. But Hill had to sit out 30 days of the season because he had transferred from Cahokia. He did not play in the Maroons’ 27-0 loss to Allen and the Lancers.

The Belleville pair will face off for the first time Thursday — in a National Football League preseason game.

Hill, a running back with the Atlanta Falcons, and Allen, a linebacker with the Miami Dolphins, each kick off their professional careers at 6 p.m. at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.

“I’m definitely excited. I can’t wait,” Hill said Wednesday morning, as he packed his bags for South Beach. “It’s going to be crazy. We’ve been preparing all summer long, and we finally get to go out and show what we’ve learned on the field. Everyone’s excited.”

Hill was drafted by the Falcons in the fifth round of April’s NFL draft out of the University of Wyoming. He expects to play in the second and third quarters against the Dolphins. Allen signed with Miami as a free agent out of Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Having Allen on the opposite sideline only adds to the anticipation for Hill. Although they do not know each other, Hill said he and Allen “talk a little bit on Twitter.”

“I can’t wait to play him,” Hill said. “I’m excited I get to be on the field against him this time. I don’t know him that well, but we definitely know of each other.”

Chase Allen
Linebacker Chase Allen, a Belleville East and SIU Carbondale graduate, will play for the Miami Dolphins in their preseason game Thursday. Southern Illinoisan photo

Allen expects to be in the game for much of the second half.

“It’s kind of a weird situation,” Allen said Wednesday afternoon of the circumstances of his meeting with Hill. “It’s pretty cool how it’s working out. It’s going to be fun to play against a guy who was in the same (Southwestern) conference in high school. Hopefully, I get a chance to meet him and talk to him to see how everything’s going.”

Allen said he anticipates having “good jitters” before the game.

“You’re just ready to get out there,” he said. “But I’m sure after the first couple of plays, it’s going to feel like normal football.”

Allen played at East under former Lancers head coach and current assistant Tim Funk.

“It’s exciting,” Funk said. “Chase, when he came back over the summer, we had him talk to our players, and he came out to our practice just to hang out and watch. So our players are aware of who he is. They’re excited for the game as well.

“This doesn’t happen very often. It’s a neat thing to just get to watch.”

Hill made reference to the “618” area code and the football talent it produces. He also reiterated a belief that it sometimes is overlooked.

Hill said he and Allen “get to put our city on the map, our area on the map.”

“We have a reputation of being underrecruited coming out of high school in this area,” Hill said. “It’s great for both of us to break the stereotype that no talent comes out of this area.”

Allen agreed.

“I don’t think (the area) gets the recognition it deserves,” he said.

You kind of have a chip on your shoulder as a free agent just because you have to earn everything. Nothing is given to you. I look forward to trying to prove that.

Chase Allen, Miami Dolphins linebacker

Hill set career records at Wyoming with 4,287 rushing yards and 35 rushing touchdowns. The 6-foot-1, 219-pounder has impressed the coaching staff during training camp and said he has no intentions of being left off the Falcons’ season-opening roster.

“If I come out here and do what I’m supposed to, I have no plans of getting cut,” Hill said.

Hill said training camp has progressed nicely in the hot and humid conditions of Flowery Branch, Georgia.

“Things are going good,” he said. “I’ve picked up the playbook very well. I feel confident in my assignments. I’m just going to go out and execute and put it on the field.

“The level of play is definitely faster. You just have to know how to react quicker. For real, the more reps you get at that level of speed, the more used to the speed you get.”

Allen starred at SIUC, where he led the Salukis in tackles in three consecutive seasons and finished with 324 for his career, 12th all time at the school.

Allen said going undrafted has given him added incentive to make an impression in Dolphins camp.

“This has been a time for me to prove myself as a player,” the 6-3, 248-pound Allen said. “You kind of have a chip on your shoulder as a free agent just because you have to earn everything. Nothing is given to you. I look forward to trying to prove that. You’ve got to take each day one at a time and do your best with everything. Hopefully, it all works out.

“Even if you’re drafted, you have to (work hard). Being a rookie, you have to earn the respect of the older guys and the coaches. I feel like that’s the goal of all the rookies.”

It’s going to be crazy. We’ve been preparing all summer long, and we finally get to go out and show what we’ve learned on the field. Everyone’s excited.

Brian Hill, Atlanta Falcons running back

Allen, with his speed and agility, also could be a candidate to land a job on special teams. He has excelled in the past on special teams.

Whatever the case, Hill said he will be pulling for Allen to make the Dolphins.

“It’s an opportunity,” Hill said of Allen. “He’s got his foot in the door. Now it’s up to him to do what he can to keep it there.”

Allen said the NFL is a detail-oriented business for a player.

“You can’t really guess on anything. You’ve got to know each detail, every play and do your job,” Allen said. “Sometimes in college, you can get away with missing an assignment but still make the play. Here, you’ve got to do the assignment in order to make the play.”

Thursday’s game will not be televised nationally, but it will be streamed live for those with an NFL GamePass subscription.

David Wilhelm: 618-239-2665, @DavidMWilhelm

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