CINCINNATI -- When BenJarvus Green-Ellis switched colleges in 2006, transferring from Indiana to Ole Miss after former Hoosiers coach Gerry DiNardo's firing, he was first welcomed to Oxford, Miss. by a familiar face.
It was Frank Wilson's.
At that time a 32-year-old college assistant on the rise, Wilson was the one who convinced Mississippi head coach Ed Orgeron to bring in Green-Ellis so he could finish his college career with the Rebels. Wilson had known Green-Ellis from his days coaching high school football in New Orleans, the city both call home. While Green-Ellis dominated at Wilson's alma mater, St. Augustine High, Wilson was coaching at O.P. Walker High School and coaching various teams in city all-star games at the Superdome.
Three years and two other jobs after leaving Mississippi in 2007, Wilson was hired by LSU to coach running backs. He's held that position ever since. His latest project was Hill, the 230-pound physical runner who the Bengals selected 55th overall in Friday night's second round of the draft. Along with his 2,156 yards and 28 touchdowns in a suspension-shortened two-year career Hill also didn't record a single lost fumble in 345 career rushing attempts. He only had one muff, but it was recovered by he and his teammates.
Hill's suspensions were the result of a conviction for sexual assault in 2011 and a 2013 arrest for punching another man during a bar fight in college. He missed all of his 2011 season because of the sexual assault conviction, and parts of two games last season for the punch, which was caught on camera. Bengals coaches said Friday they felt comfortable drafting Hill despite those red flags after talking with his coaches at LSU.
Much like Green-Ellis has done over the years, Hill was quick to credit Wilson for his ball-security. Green-Ellis didn't have a fumble through his first four seasons in the NFL.
"The principles he brings with ball security and running sound are the same things I can bring to the table by having the same coach," Hill said on a Friday-night conference call to Cincinnati media.
To get a deeper look at how much Green-Ellis values Wilson's principles about playing fumble-free football, take a look at this 2012 Yahoo! Sports story from just before Super Bowl XLVI. At Mississippi, Wilson forced his backs to run several different drills that made them keep the ball high and tight.
Since he's been in Cincinnati, Green-Ellis has been in need of a few reminders from Wilson. After not having a single fumble on 588 combined regular-season and post-season carries and receptions while with the Patriots his first four seasons, Green-Ellis has has since lost his grip on the ball five times in his two years as a Bengal. Four of them have been lost.
It is possible Hill's arrival could signal Green-Ellis' departure. The 28-year-old veteran is entering the final year of his current contract and could be viewed as an extra body the team just won't be able to carry, particularly as it tries to add as much cap space as it can to extend quarterback Andy Dalton and linebacker Vontaze Burfict. If he gets cut, Green-Ellis could provide the Bengals with a cap savings of $2.5 million.
For now, Hill is expecting Green-Ellis to be part of the backfield that he will soon join. After learning from Wilson, he's hopeful that Green-Ellis will share a lesson or two with him, as well.
"I'm honored to be a part of that room with an experienced guy like Green-Ellis and Gio [Bernard], who had a great rookie year," Hill said. "I'll take everything I can and learn from them. The league is going with multiple backs, so everyone will need each other to finish a 16-game schedule, plus the playoffs. In a physical division, it would be tough for one guy to carry the load by himself. We'll all need each other and we'll compete and make each other better, and I'm very excited for it."