Ogden • Seated at his desk inside his office in Stewart Stadium, Jerry Bovee leans back in his chair and rattles off all the reasons why his football coach has not only been such a hit, but why he’s been able to build something swiftly and sustain it.
Weber State’s athletic director pointed to how a shift in recruiting landed so many more talented in-state players, how the program lifted itself off the mat after a 2-10 start to this era of Wildcat football, how his head coach was bred from a program 40 minutes south that, he explains, never wavers in its identity. Jay Hill, Bovee continued, even organizes staff pickup basketball games at lunch on a regular basis, too.
Then Bovee laughs.
“He’s delivered on all that [he expected to],” Bovee said of Hill. “He’s hungry. He wants to prove to the world that he’s capable.”
The Weber State coach has already accomplished that. Hill’s Wildcats have made the FCS postseason three straight years, are enjoying their second 10-plus win season in Ogden and Friday night host Maine for a shot at the FCS semifinals. Weber State is 36-25 in his five years there, 27-13 in Big Sky Conference games. The Wildcats are the reigning back-to-back Big Sky champs and have a clear runway to the FCS title game.
2018 FCS QUARTERFINAL
Maine at Weber State
When • Friday, 6 p.m.
TV • ESPN2
Whether he wants to hear about it or not, whether Weber State fans want to even entertain the idea, Hill’s stock in college football is rising. It’s not specific to 2018, either. Hill is a known as a hot commodity amongst young college football coaches in the country. He has been linked as a candidate to the recently-vacated Utah State job after Matt Wells left Logan for Texas Tech last week. When asked if he believes it will be difficult to keep a guy like Hill around for the long-term, Bovee leans back in his chair again.
“I think it’s always hard to keep really good coaches at our level, because there will be opportunities,” Bovee said this week. “You know what, an opportunity will come along at some point that’s right for him, but I think he’s pretty picky. He’s had some opportunities that haven’t been right for him. He’s pretty transparent. We talk about that. In the end, I want what’s best for him. It’d be selfish and disingenuous to say you should turn down everything.”
Weber State is where Hill got his first chance at leading a program. The longtime Utah assistant who served as an assistant coach and the in-state recruiting coordinator under Kyle Whittingham for years left his alma mater for a shot at not only forming a team, but having to turn it around, and quickly. Hill has gone 34-15 since that inaugural 2-10 year in 2014.
“Our job is to make this place so good that it’s really hard to leave,” Bovee said. “And in the end, if they leave, it means they’re successful and it’s much easier to keep a successful program running and thriving than it is to change an unsuccessful program to a successful one.”
This year’s Wildcats are as close to a Jay Hill team as it gets: explosive on offense, opportunistic on defense and a special teams group that can change the complexion of a game in an instant. Just look at last week’s win over Southeast Missouri State, when the Wildcats pulled off two fake punts plus a fake field goal for a touchdown. This FCS quarterfinal matchup against Maine is the lone college football game in the country on Friday night. It’s scheduled to be broadcast on ESPN2.
“Everyone’s going to be watching,” Hill said. “This is our opportunity to showcase and prove to everyone what we’re really all about.”
The Wildcats are all about winning Hill’s way, and so far it’s obvious that the plan he had when he took over in December 2013 is being followed perfectly. Said running back Josh Davis of this year’s success: “Great players and great coaches doing what we’re supposed to do.”
Hill said his message to his team of reports that he may or may not be a candidate for open jobs around the country isn’t complex, either.
“Don’t read into those things,” he said. “I’m here, we’re looking to win a championship, and this is an important deal right now that you can’t overlook, obviously.”
Speculation is part of sports, Hill added, acknowledging it comes with the territory of the position.
In the meantime, the Wildcats have a date with the Black Bears Friday night inside Stewart Stadium, where the temperatures are going to drop and be unforgiving when the sun finally sets. Bovee can’t wait for the game, but he too understands that his coach will only get more attention from the outside as the wins continue to pile up.
“His name’s going to come up. That’s just the way it is,” Bovee said. “When he tells me there’s something on the horizon, then I know it’s a serious thing.”
WEBER STATE UNDER JAY HILL
2018: 10-2, 7-1 in Big Sky, Big Sky champs, No. 2 seed in FCS postseason
2017: 11-3, 7-1 in Big Sky, Big Sky champs
2016: 7-5, 6-2 in Big Sky
2015: 6-5, 5-3 in Big Sky
2014: 2-10, 2-6 in Big Sky