April 29, 2012

Hill pulls double duty; has standout spring game

EAST LANSING - At this point in his development, Nick Hill isn't really concerned about when, where and how his opportunities come to get more playing time.

So pulling double duty in Saturday's annual Green and White scrimmage was just viewed as another chance for Hill to further prove his worth to the Spartans' running attack.

"It means a lot to me. It means I grew as a player today, getting a lot more carries in, getting my feet wet more and being able to get better today.''

After Larry Caper (head) and Le'Veon Bell (foot) were sat down for precautionary reasons after getting hurt, Hill stepped in and stepped up gaining 95 yards on 19 carries - going 5-for-19 for the Green team, 14-for-76 for the White squad - including a 32-yard touchdown run for the White team where he escaped the clutches of All-American candidate William Gholston in a pile of humanity off left tackle to score the White team's second touchdown.

"I just kept my feet moving and I felt like something was happening,'' Hill, a redshirt sophomore said. "I knew I wasn't going down and I felt guys were sliding off me. A lot of guys say I'm short but hey, if I was taller, I would've gotten tackled.''

The White squad, filled with the better defensive players, won Saturday's scrimmage 14-2 but Hill made sure he was a win-win situation for both teams.

Displaying combinations of toughness, speed and determination, he looked like a back capable of carrying the ball 20-25 times a game. His production was evident on Saturday as he finished with a 5 yards per carry average.

He even added 22 yards in the controlled environment of the kick return game.

"Nick Hill has big play ability. There's no question about that,'' MSU head coach Mark Dantonio said. He's an electrifying runner. Obviously, Nick Hill ran hard.''

On Saturday, Hill showed he can play much bigger than his 5-foot-8, 190-pound frame would suggest. Although he did expend a lot of energy to prove it.

"I knew I was going to go to the Green side a little bit because Le'Veon hurt his foot but I didn't know Larry was going to go out too,'' Hill said. "I didn't expect to get as many carries and go on every series basically between the Green and White but I embraced the challenge and I was ready for it. I've gotten stronger in the legs and upper body and that just helps with my balance. My muscle mass has definitely increased since I've been in college and that's where I get most of my power from.

"It was good to get a lot of carries, and the workload and all, but my body is pretty beat up right now. I haven't gotten that many carries since high school. But it was a great experience to show everyone what I have and where I have come so far.''

It was a side of Hill running backs coach Brad Salem wasn't surprised to see.

"I was disappointed because it was all for the White team,'' Salem joked. "But these games give opportunities and you're seeing something that we see everyday (in practice). Nick's always had a toughness about him, and a little bit of edge to him when he runs. He did a great job, and obviously he jumped around to both sides but he's a guy that will keep running hard. He has very good pad level, plays very physical and he'll compete. It was just neat to see him get that opportunity today.''

From Hill's standpoint, he was most proud of that toughness that saw him bounce back after a couple of big licks from teammates Taiwan Jones and Kyler Elsworth early in the day.

"I would say it probably shows a lot of toughness on my part but the shots looked worse than they actually were. Taiwan hit me on the sideline and it looked like a great hit. Everyone got excited and it was a great hit but it did not hurt at all. The Kyler one got me right in the quad so that hurt worse than Taiwan's but it shows no matter how hard I get hit, no matter how many times I get hit, I just keep on going.''

Despite taking a couple of shots that drew reaction from the estimated 21,000 at Spartan Stadium, Hill displayed the talents of a running back ready to demand more time in the Spartans' running back rotation.

And with Edwin Baker's early departure, the Spartans are going to need Hill's contributions in a backfield where depth could become an issue during the middle of what can be a grueling Big Ten schedule.

But until then, Salem was just happy that Hill got the chance to prove himself in a situation where all eyes were focused on him in a scrimmage that was televised by the Big Ten Network.

"Anytime you compete, on this stage, in a gamelike environment, it helps you,'' Salem said. "Your hope is that some guys experience success (on a day like this) so that they feel that and believe in themselves so that they're ready for Boise State. The fact that he was our kick returner and led us in that area, he's played Big Ten football. So he'll be ready and the nice thing with this now is the luxury (of) having a lot of backs.''

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