August 13, 2012
Jeremy Hill walked into LSU’s indoor practice facility Tuesday wearing a white No. 33 game jersey with his name on the back and gold game pants with purple striping on each side.
Media Day at LSU would usually be any other day. But Hill has learned not to take any day for granted.
Wearing the colors of the school he committed to as a Redemptorist High junior, Hill talked about how excited he was to begin the college career he hoped to have started 12 months earlier.
“It’s amazing,” Hill said. “Every day I wake up, I just thank God for the blessings and the opportunity to be with all my great teammates. All these things are surreal. Today is surreal. Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe, but it just pushes me so hard to get better on the field and make an impact for my teammates this season.”
Hill finished his career at Redemptorist in 2010 as the school’s all-time leading rusher, part of an LSU recruiting class that included RHS teammate La’el Collins, Lutcher receiver Jarvis Landry, O.P. Walker defensive lineman Anthony “Freak” Johnson, Newman receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and Patterson running back Kenny Hilliard. The group of Louisiana-bred, LSU-bound blue chips became known as “The Fam,” a salute to the relationships they developed during the recruiting process.
But a month before the other prospects signed, Hill was arrested along with a Redemptorist classmate on one count each of oral sexual battery. In January 2012, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of carnal knowledge of a juvenile, receiving a suspended six-month prison term along with active supervised probation for two years.
While the LSU coaches waited for the running back’s legal issues to settle, Hill watched the Super Bowl of the recruiting process — National Signing Day — come and go without him.
He spent the 2011 season watching games from the couch of his Baton Rouge home and doing the best he could to stay in shape.
“It showed me some valuable life lessons,” Hill said. “It showed me patience. It helped me build my personality — I found out who I was as a person. It made me a lot stronger. I can get through a lot more things than a lot of guys would be able to get through.”
LSU running backs coach Frank Wilson, whose recruitment of the 2011 signing class earned him national accolades, said Hill has put the setback behind him and is making the best of a fresh start.
“Everything is forward; we’re not looking in the rearview,” Wilson said. “We’re very pleased with his maturity, with his development. He’s continued to progress athletically, academically, socially — on and off the field. We anticipate great things for Jeremy. He’ll have a great career here.”
From an eligibility standpoint, the season away from football amounted to a redshirt year, sending Hill into 2012 as a freshman running back with four seasons to play.
But redshirt players get the benefit of an organized weight and conditioning program. They build muscle and speed under the supervision of a strength coach. They practice every day.
Hill said he tried his best to stay in shape last fall, but it was clear when he reported to campus in January that his first spring with the Tigers would be one focused on shedding weight.
“You go from sitting on the couch to all of a sudden you’re going against Sam Montgomery and (Barkevious) Mingo every day,” Hill said.
Hill said Tuesday he is carrying 230 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame. He was around 260 eight months ago.
“Coach Frank has done a great job with keeping him on the treadmill on off days, things like that to get him back in shape,” Landry said. “You can see him slimming down.”
With his legal issues behind him, Hill hopes to regain the form he showed as a Redemptorist senior, when he rushed for 2,260 yards and 36 touchdowns, earning All-Metro MVP honors as one of the South’s top running back prospects.
But finding playing time in LSU’s crowded backfield rotation won’t be easy.
Spencer Ware and Michael Ford combined to rush for 1,463 yards as sophomores last year. Alfred Blue added 539 yards and seven touchdowns. Hilliard came on late in the year, scoring eight touchdowns to tie Ware for the team lead.
“We have a lot of hard-nosed running backs down here,” Landry said. “But the thing Jeremy brings is the ability to catch the football out of the backfield. By him being able to do that, I think that helps put him on the field earlier. Not many running backs can do that.”
No one could have blamed Hill had he chosen a school other than LSU in his second time through the recruiting process.
Not only would leaving Baton Rouge have meant a better shot at playing a prominent role early in his career, it would have also offered an escape from the 2011 hiccup that threw fans of LSU football for a loop.
But Hill embraced the competition at running back. And he knew where he felt most at home.
Back with “The Fam” a year behind schedule, he said he looks forward to rewarding the coaches who stood by him.
“Through the whole process, those guys always had an offer on the table for me,” Hill said of the LSU coaches. “They just wanted the legal system to play itself out, which it did. So I appreciate those guys for having faith in me and giving me this opportunity.”