Human beings tend to make mistakes, and what they tend to hope for is a chance at redemption, for an opportunity to right themselves of past misfortunes. Some do, but many don’t get the occasion to do so.
But for Southern senior place-kicker Matt Hill, his opportunity came Saturday night.
Southern’s regular kicker, Greg Pittman, suffered a hip injury leading up to the Alabama A&M game and was unavailable.
So the coaching staff called on Hill to replace Pittman. He happened to do it against a familiar foe in the Bulldogs.
Last season, the Southern-Alabama A&M game went into overtime, and the Jaguars scored on their initial possession.
BUt Hill missed the extra point — the only one he missed all season — allowing the Bulldogs to win after their scored a touchdown and added the PAT.
Fast-forward to Saturday, with the Jaguars trailing 17-14 at A.W. Mumford Stadium.
Hill was called upon to attempt a 37-yard field goal after chaos ensued on the previous play, when quarterback Dray Joseph was flagged for intentional grounding and the game was thought to be over because of a 10-seond runoff.
However, after officials cleared up the confusion and sent the teams back onto the field for the game’s final play, Hill stepped in and drilled the game-tying field goal, sending the contest into overtime. He later converted another 37-yard attempt for the game-winner.
“I don’t ever want the game to come that close,” Hill said. “Of course I’d rather the team come out and have a convincing win. But I’m not going to lie: It felt good to get that redemption from last year.”
Hill was jubilant at the time, but next few days were also special.
“My teachers pointed it out (Monday) at the beginning of class,” Hill said. “My teachers all pointed out that I kicked the game-winning field goal in Saturday’s game, and people started cheering, so that was pretty cool.”
Hill came to Southern from East Central Community College in Decatur, Miss., where he first got into playing football through a tryout at the school.
“In junior college in Mississippi, my roommate told me about football tryouts, and I just went out there for fun,” Hill said.
Four-year universities began to take notice of what Hill accomplished at East Central. He earned a particular amount of interest from Southwestern Athletic Conference schools.
“Pretty much all the SWAC offered me a scholarship except for a couple of schools,” Hill said. “But Southern fit me the best. I chose Southern because of the area. Baton Rouge is a bigger city than where most other SWAC schools are located.”
Hill also pointed out the proximity of Baton Rouge to his hometown of Pensacola, Fla., which allows for his parents to attend every game, including Saturday’s overtime victory.
Hill was prepared for the opportunity Saturday, in large part because of the Jaguars’ situational drills every day in practice.
Southern special teams coach Marty Biagi regularly puts his specialists through various drills in high-stress situations, including teammates doing pushups if a kicker misses a kick during practice.
“What we try to do in practice is create situations of anxiety and adversity,” Biagi said. “We just try to do something that creates a mental edge for the kickers, so that when it comes down to a crucial kick, he and his teammates have the confidence that he’ll make the kick.”
After Saturday’s win, Hill is no longer referred to just as “Matt” from his fellow teammates. Instead, they have new names for the kicker.
“I got a bunch of phone calls and texts from friends just congratulating me over the weekend,” Hill said. “Of course I heard it from my current teammates, with some new nicknames: ‘Matty Ice,’ ‘Clutch Matt.’ ”