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Utah State football: Hill wants to show offense is more than Keeton

Published August 7, 2014 6:00 pm

College football • Running back appears to be at full strength after knee injury.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Logan • Joe Hill knows the return of quarterback Chuckie Keeton is going to be an enduring storyline as the Aggies prepare for the 2014 season.

But once the season starts, the senior hopes to enjoy a little attention of his own. Hill, a laid-back Californian, doesn't necessarily crave the spotlight, but he does believe he can make people realize there is more to the offense than Keeton.

"I feel like I'm stronger than I've ever been," he said. "Summer workouts went well, and the past couple of months I've been doing a lot of running and cutting on my knee and it feels normal. Now I just need to gain some confidence back so I don't go out there and think about my knee all the time."

Hill started at running back last year until he suffered the season-ending knee injury against San Jose State on Sept 27.

The best and worst part of the injury was that Hill soon had the companionship of Keeton during rehab.

"I told him his worst nightmare had just happened," Utah State coach Matt Wells said of his conversation with Hill. "I told him Chuckie was going to drill him and take things to another level in there, because Chuckie is so competitive."

Wells was correct in guessing what would happen in that training room. The two did push each other, Hill said.

The benefit not only came in gains of individual strength, but also in gains for the team, Hill said.

"I got to know him a lot better and we hung out a lot more," Hill said of Keeton. "I really feel like he trusts me more, and it's going to make us a better team."

Hill was having a solid season for the Aggies before the injury, averaging 4.8 yards a carry in addition to catching 13 passes for 94 yards.

That versatility should make him a dangerous weapon for the Aggies this year, Keeton predicted.

"He's still as explosive as ever," Keeton said in assessing Hill's debut in fall camp. "I don't think many people expect as much from him just because he's a running back and he happened to have ACL surgery, but he was moving today."

Utah State has built quite a run of success around its run game, winning 15 straight games when it has had a 100-yard rusher, with the last loss being to Ohio in the 2011 Famous Potato Idaho Bowl. Joey DeMartino had seven such games last year, rushing for 1,221 yards and 13 touchdowns and earning honorable mention all-Mountain West honors. Hill believes he can carry on the tradition.

"I owe all the other guys who came before me," he said. "Joey taught me a lot, and I've been around for a couple years now. I need to keep working hard, but not put a lot of pressure on myself and just be me and let everything fall into place."

So far things seem to be right on track, although Wells is keeping the pressure on his back by noting the Aggies have a stable full of good backs.

"Running backs are not scarce," he said. "One of them is bound to step up if Joe doesn't want to do it."

lwodraska@sltrib.com

Hill's career rushing stats

G Att Yds Avg TD

2013 5 53 252 4.4 1

2012 12 43 269 6.3 7

2011 7 7 24 3.4 1