Hill was in Fouch's face all day last Saturday during the Nittany Lions' win against the Sycamores, pressuring him, hitting him a couple of times and sacking him in the second quarter with teammate Jack Crawford. For Hill, it was a big day to start what he hopes will be a big season after earning the starting defensive tackle spot opposite Devon Still in spring practice.
The junior finished the Indiana State game with five tackles, good for third on the team, including that half-sack. He hopes to be a key part in helping Penn State's defense generate more pressure on quarterbacks this season after totaling just 17 sacks a year ago.
"He's been playing well since last year. He's a good football player," defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said after the game. "He plays screens well, he's very aware, fundamentally sound."
Hill committed to the Lions in January of 2009 after first giving his commitment to Rutgers. He caught the attention of defensive line coach Larry Johnson senior after recording 117 tackles (41 for a loss) and 12.5 sacks in his senior season at Steelton-Highspire. He spurned offers from Pittsburgh and Temple to play for Penn State.
Since then, he's gradually worked his way up Penn State's depth chart. As a true freshman in 2009, he appeared in eight games and totaled 12 tackles in limited action. Last season, he played in all 13 games and started four times. He racked up 36 tackles and notched a half a sack in Penn State's 41-24 win against Indiana. His breakout performance came against this week's opponent, Alabama, when he recorded seven total tackles.
Hill really made his mark in spring practice, however, nabbing the Jim O’Hora Award for improvement on his way to earning a starting spot on Johnson's defensive line. He now replaces the graduated Ollie Ogbu at defensive tackle for the Lions this season.
To prepare for the new job, he cut down weight in the offseason and is at his slimmest playing weight since high school. Now with the success of his offseason conditioning in the rear view, he can now focus on the business of helping the defense be the best it can be. If you ask him, though, enjoying the game might be the key to turning around 2010's 7-6 record into something better this time around.
"I think the biggest thing that we need to do is have fun this year," Hill said after the the Indiana State game. "We didn't have as much fun and come out in an enthusiastic type of way [last season]. We really want to play together. We all just want to come out and make it a good year for [the seniors]."
Fortunately for Hill, if he and his teammates can find a way to upset Alabama on Saturday, there may be a lot of good times ahead.