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Utah State football: Joe Hill carves out niche in Aggies' backfield

Published September 5, 2012 11:38 pm

College football • Backup running back had a breakout game vs. SUU.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Logan • Nobody expects Joe Hill to replace Robert Turbin, or even Michael Smith, Utah State's cornerstone running backs of a year ago who are now in the NFL.

That doesn't mean Hill can't carve out a name for himself.

The sophomore is in his third year as an Aggie and has received precious few real-game snaps over the past two seasons. But his performance against Southern Utah in last Thursday's season-opener served as an introduction of sorts to USU fans.

By the time the 34-3 victory was over, Hill had rushed for 116 yards and three touchdowns as Kerwynn Williams' backup. His explosion was visible, his ability to make defenders miss served as an instant crowd pleaser.

Now, with USU's matchup against Utah looming on Friday night, the competition gets tougher.

"He's going to have to do it on a larger stage now, and now that he's shown that he can do it, we're going to expect it from him," Utah State running backs coach Mike Sanford said. "He's got vision, he's gotten much stronger since last year and he's very fast and explosive. He's got a lot of talent."

Gary Andersen took the game ball last Thursday night and handed it to Hill. On film over the weekend, Hill graded out as "champion," the highest grade an Aggie can receive from the coaching staff.

It wasn't a bad start for a guy like Hill, who strained to earn playing time previously. Of course, Turbin and Smith — along with Williams — were ahead of him on the depth chart. But he also struggled to learn the playbook, as well as little but important things like pass protection.

"I had to grow up a little and mature a little," Hill said. "I had to realize that it takes a lot more than talent to get onto the field. Everything that I've gone through has helped me."

His relationship with Sanford has improved him as a player. Hill improved at the little things. Sanford took an almost painfully shy Hill and made him more assertive and aggressive on and off the field. The result was a solid fall camp in which Hill clearly announced himself as the back-up to Williams.

Hill knew he would get carries in the season-opener. Nobody, however, could predict that he would take over the spotlight the way he did.

"Joe was great for us," USU head coach Gary Andersen said. "We were very happy with what he did and we're going to rely on him in the future."

tjones@sltrib.com

Closer look

• Joe Hill is a redshirt sophomore is in his first season as a rotation player in the backfield.

• He rushed for 116 yards and three touchdowns in 34-3 win over Southern Utah.

• HeiImpressive camp helped him earn spot as back-up to Kerwynn Williams.