Sept. 24, 2011
By Jon Cooper
At 6-5, 205, Stephen Hill is a man amongst boys when matching up against opposing defensive backs.
On Saturday, the 20-year-old felt like a kid again — a high school kid — during and following Georgia Tech’s 35-28 victory over North Carolina at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Hill caught a career- and season-high six passes and grabbed his fourth touchdown pass of the season, a second-quarter 59-yard break-away pass from Tevin Washington. The four scores in four games match his first two seasons and 25 games at Georgia Tech.
The big-play man of this big-play offense has caught touchdown passes of 82-, 77- and 71-yards this season.
“He’s a great athlete and hard to cover one-on-one,” explained head coach Paul Johnson. “They were familiar and jumped with the motion and when that happens you have some new coverage on your back side and nobody underneath. They have you playing short and when you go deep, it’s a tough match-up.”
Hill exploits those match-ups with his 6-5, 215-pound frame, sprinter’s speed and preparation, consisting of hours of film study.
“I scout the other defense starting Monday and I make sure I see what kind of coverage they use, looking at the DBs and how short they are or if they’re a little taller than you’re average DB,” he said. “I’m just going up and getting the ball and making plays. That’s all Coach Johnson wants. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
While more postgame attention was paid to the touchdown that got away, a pass from Washington that hit him in stride but which he dropped, having felt a “tweak” in his leg just as the ball arrived, two of his other catches showed his tremendous athleticism and one contributed to a huge, momentum-sustaining drive.
The first came in the first quarter, with Tech down 7-3. Washington lofted a pass along the right sideline that Hill jumped for, pulled down one-handed, then came down with both feet inbounds.
The other came at the end of the first half. Washington went long for Hill down the left sideline. This time, the ball was underthrown, but Hill pulled up and outdueled UNC’s corner for the catch, setting up Tech at the Carolina five. Three plays later, the Yellow Jackets were in the end zone and up 17-7 at the half.
“Tevin put it in the spot where I where I could go get it, only,” he said. “So I just used my basketball skills from high school, go up an go get the ball. It kind of surprised me. I’m not going to lie to you. But once the ball got in my hands, I just used my strength and my forearms. I do a lot of forearm work and I just came down with it.”
Hill played like a man possessed all day, after one catch dragging three Carolina tacklers for five extra yards.
There’s no telling how bad the “tweak” in his leg is and if it will cost him any time, but he did return to the game and was instrumental all game with his blocking, something else he has done all year.
Something he hadn’t done this year, or had ever done, prior to Saturday, was return a kickoff. He got to do that on Saturday, taking it 28 yards. It keeps with Hill’s theme theme of doing anything and everything to help the team.
But it’s also a lot of fun.
“Going to kickoff return, I kind of felt like I was back in high school,” he said with a laugh. “It was pretty fun. I actually have fun playing football. I love it. Anything I can do to help out the team is a big plus for me.”