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ALBANY, N.Y. -- Will Hill used to take everything for granted.
He believed he could float by on talent and skill and things were going to come to him easily.
Two years after leaving Florida as a junior and going undrafted, the talented safety has had a major attitude readjustment -- the kind that only comes with being on the brink of failure.
Now, he tells himself to fight for everything on every snap he gets since he never knows when his opportunities will run out. This summer, Hill is trying to make the New York Giants' roster and, so far, he has impressed enough to have a shot to play in the NFL with the defending world champions.
Even in non-contact practices, Hill will sometimes let players and coaches know he was there to make a hit by smacking into the ball carrier.
"I play with just a little bit more oomph because I had dark times," Hill said. "I know what's on the other side and I don't want to go back."
Hill was a high school superstar at St. Peter's Prep and had his choice of colleges. He chose The University of Florida and played with Tim Tebow. But he was suspended in 2010 for violating team rules. A college football website then posted some vulgar tweets linked to his Twitter account referencing sex, prostitutes and drugs. Hill later said his Twitter account was hacked.
Hill's character came into question. He has four kids from three women. Also, he reportedly did not interview well with teams at the scouting combine. Hill thought he could go somewhere in the early to mid-rounds of the 2011 draft but went undrafted. Nobody wanted to take a chance.
Hill admits he thought his career was over and said he only had himself to blame.
"Me. Me," he said when asked what was the reason for his football struggles. "Just thinking too highly of myself and thinking, 'Oh, I am at the top again, nothing can happen to me and I can do whatever I want.' And I paid for it."
|Once one of the nation's top recruits, Will Hill threw away a promising career at Florida.|
Hill worked with former NFL defensive backs Ray Buchanan and Sam Madison and came into Giants rookie camp this year motivated to turn his career around. He has impressed the Giants coaching staff in rookie camp and made a stronger impression in OTAs and minicamp.
"I'm very impressed with Will Hill," defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said at the end of May after OTAs. "He's 30 minutes early for the meetings. When I go into the meeting room, he's always in there studying. He's a very athletic young man. This is his second chance so to speak. He is being the ultimate pro by the way he is preparing for his opportunity."
Hill hasn't stopped working. He says he has practically had his head buried in the defensive playbook since camp started, even opting to eat lunch back in his room to study the playbook instead of joining teammates in the University of Albany cafeteria.
"My mindset is, right now, it is either kill or be killed," Hill said. "Because everybody is out here fighting for a job along with me. So it is either do I want that job or not? It is a kill-or-be-killed mentality so I am going to be the killer."
There is definitely opportunity for Hill not just to make the roster but potentially have a role to play. The Giants are trying to figure out how they will proceed with Terrell Thomas potentially out for a while with a right knee injury.
Besides finding a cornerback to take Thomas' spot, the Giants are looking for somebody to cover slot receivers and someone who can possibly play the third safety role that Deon Grant occupied for the past two seasons.
One of the Giants' contingency plans is to have safety Antrel Rolle cover slot receivers like last season. Grant used to be on the field as part of Fewell's three safety look with Rolle on slot receivers.
Tyler Sash is the third safety on the roster, but he will serve a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's PED policy. So, Hill has been getting reps at Grant's old spot, lining up with the linebackers at times. He has displayed speed, athleticism and good instincts.
"You see a real quick, well-conditioned athlete right now," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "He's definitely had a couple of days where he's stood out and he stands out on [special] teams too."
The 6-foot-1, 207-pound Hill said the first position he played at Florida was nickel so he says he is already acclimated to that role. But what he continues to work on every day is proving that he belongs in the NFL.
It has been a humbling road thus far, but Hill says he is ready to fight not just for himself but his four boys, ages 2, 2, 1 and nine months. Hill said he was able to spend more time with his sons last year while trying to keep his football career alive.
"That is the positive," Hill said. "You already know the negatives. I couldn't watch football [last year]. I couldn't stomach it. I watched nothing at all."
Safeties coach Dave Merritt says Hill has all the talent and athleticism already. He just has to learn the playbook and keep progressing.
"Will is a guy that we all see his athletic ability," Merritt said. "This kid has speed. He has quickness, he has burst and acceleration, and this young man has all the tools that you want as a defensive back."
"The thing that Will is going to have learn is the playbook -- the details of the details," Merritt added. "He has a long way to go. [But] right now, he's displaying the talents that we need."
Talent, though, has never been the issue for Hill. It has been desire, focus, doing the right thing and going out and making the most of his football career and opportunities.
"People have been telling me that my whole life," Hill said. "I just got to put myself to it and show everybody that I do have this and I know what to do with it."