If you were to look at the Arizona football record books in the receiving category, you would see senior Austin Hill’s name all in almost every category. In just two and a half years, he has the seventh-most receiving yards in a career (1,983 yards), the fifth-most receptions in a season (81 in 2012), the third-most receiving yards in a season (1,364 in 2012), tied for the most touchdowns in a season (11 in 2012), tied for eighth in career receiving touchdowns (16), tied for the third-most receptions in a single game (11 against Stanford in 2012), has the highest average gain per reception with a minimum of 10 receptions in a game (25.9 yards against USC in 2012) and has the second-most receiving yards in a game (259 against USC in 2012).
It is safe to say that Hill is one of the best receivers to ever put on an Arizona uniform. In his freshman season, he played in 10 games while starting one. He caught 21 passes for 311 yards and two touchdowns. Hill blew up his sophomore year catching 81 passes for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also averaged 104.9 yards per game and 16.8 yards per catch. He finished that year as a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the best wide receiver in the country.
Hill was poised to become a top receiver in the game his junior year, until he tore his ACL in spring practice.
“I thought that I had lost everything,” Hill said. “I didn’t know what to do or how to react to the situation. I took a day where I didn’t really talk to anyone.”
Hill immediately began his rehab so he could get to full strength as fast as possible. For anyone who has ever torn their ACL, coming back from that injury is a long, grueling process that takes a lot of patience and hard work.
“The rehab process was rough because it was the same thing every day for a couple months at a time,” Hill said. “Some days you had to take off to get rest, but I would feel good so I didn’t really want to. Then there were some days where I had to rehab and I felt horrible and I couldn’t take a break. It’s frustrating to be an athlete and then have to become non-athletic and learn to do everything again on one leg. It’s hard, physically and mentally.”
The strength staff Arizona is known as one of the best in the country. Strength coaches Chris Allen and Parker Whiteman pushed Hill to his limits to make sure that when he did come back, he would be better than he was before he got hurt.
“The strength staff, especially Parker (Whiteman) and Chris (Allen), really helped me,” Hill said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the strength and medical staffs at my side every day. I was able to really feel that they had my back and they would help me. They pushed me past my limit, and I think that helped me a lot.”
Hill’s fellow receivers DaVonte’ Neal and Cayleb Jones also made the rehab process easier on him. Neal and Jones redshirted the season per transfer rules.
“I always had a lot of time to talk to them on the sideline,” Hill said. “I was able to watch games and see what we were doing and I was able to become good friends with them because we had a lot more time to talk.”
As the year went on, Hill became more motivated every day. He wanted to play right away, but he knew he was a long way away, and that was his motivation.
“Every day was motivation for me,” Hill said. “I got a little more upset every day, especially the days I wasn’t able to rehab. It motivated me because I didn’t want to feel this way anymore and I wanted to get to 100 percent as fast as possible.”
He wanted to play in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl, so Hill was constantly being pushed by everyone to work as hard as he could and to never give in to the pain and frustration. The thought of giving up never crossed his mind because nobody would allow that.
“My goal was to be able to play in the bowl game,” Hill said. “If I wasn’t able to do that, I wanted to run out of the tunnel with the team. Neither of those were able to happen, but I never gave up on myself and neither did anyone else. Even if I wanted to give up, it would’ve been rough for me.”
After the 2013 season ended, Hill had a choice. He could enter the NFL Draft and have a very good chance at being selected, or return for his senior season and finish what he started. He decided to come back, and seems content with his decision.
When spring practice began in 2014, Hill began to participate more than he ever did. He was able to practice with the team and play in the spring game.
“It was during the spring when I felt that I was back,” Hill said. “I was running routes and everything was clicking. Even though I played with my brace on, that was the first time I felt like I was back. When my brace came off is when I felt that I was almost where I wanted to be and I was getting comfortable with my knee.”
Finally, fall practice began, and Hill was more than excited to start. Normally, players aren’t thrilled about having to go through fall camp, but Hill was just happy to be there because he wasn’t able to participate the year before.
“It felt good to be back with the team,” Hill said. “I don’t think anyone loves camp, but I had love for it for the first couple of days. I missed it because last year I had to watch everyone. I was happy because I could finally be with everyone again and run around with them instead of standing on the sideline.”
It is hard not to think about, but Hill tries to focus on the present and the future instead of thinking about how far he has come in the last year and a half.
“I try not to think about the past,” Hill said. “I try to stay in the present and think about what I can do in the future. When I get down on myself or something isn’t happening the way I want it to, my parents will remind me that last year you couldn’t even walk and that I should be happy that I can play because a lot of people aren’t able to come back from this injury.”
So far, Hill has picked up right where he left off. Through four games, he has 15 catches for 263 yards and three touchdowns. He is averaging 17.5 yards per catch, the highest of his career so far.
“Austin is a really smart guy,” head coach Rich Rodriguez said. “I know this year is really important to him because he wants to finish off his career right. He has great ball skills, but better than anything he has a great feel for the game.”
The senior has high hopes for his last year as a Wildcat as he wants play in a Rose Bowl and possibly farther.
“I want the team to be the best we can be,” Hill said. “I want to do anything that will help, even if that’s better blocking, and I don’t always have to catch the ball. My biggest goal is to do the best I can for the team and get us to a Rose Bowl.”
Hill has worked extremely hard for the past year and a half to get to this point.
“It’s definitely been worth it for me,” Hill said. “Being able to put on pads and run around with my teammates has made it worth it. It reminds me that I’m lucky to have been able to come back. As far as I can tell, I am moving in the right direction.”