YORK — Perhaps Chad Hill took a risk committing to play football at the Air Force Academy in January, despite never having visited the school. But when Hill finally did make it out to the academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., later that month, it only confirmed what he already was thinking.
“You get the best of both worlds,” he said Wednesday at York Comprehensive High School's National Signing Day ceremony. “Top of the line academics, some of the best in the nation, and at the same time playing Division I football in the Mountain West Conference. So, you can't beat that.”
Hill signed his national letter of intent to attend Air Force on Wednesday, joining six other Cougars. Lee Wright and Beau and Hunter Nunn all signed with Appalachian State, Rominique Mobley chose Hutchinson Community College, Shamal Sanders signed with North Greenville, and Spencer Carroll opted for the first-year program at Limestone.
The group's leadership was a central catalyst in the Cougars' 10-3 season, the school's best since 2001, and none of the players fulfilled that obligation more than Hill.
“He was an exceptional leader out on the field, not only verbal but his actions,” York football coach Bobby Carroll said.
After moving to York County from San Diego as an eighth-grader, Hill spent his first two high school years at Clover, before transferring to York his junior year, a decision he described as one of the best he's made.
“He's an incredible football player,” said Carroll. “He came in from Day One and did everything we asked him to do, and really more.”
Hill, a 5-foot-10, 190-pound safety, was second on the team this year in tackles (118). He also had 16 pass break-ups and made four interceptions in a ball-hawking Cougar secondary. Hill and Wright were nightmares near the line of scrimmage for York, using their speed and smarts to hunt down ball carriers or dupe quarterbacks into ill-advised passes.
“He's, I don't know, 185 pounds, but he played more like a 200-pounder,” Carroll said. “Size in football sometimes is really deceiving.”
Besides, it's becoming ideal to have smaller, more rangy defensive back/linebacker hybrids to combat increasingly common spread offenses in the college game. A 6-foot-4, 240-pounder that was once a linebacker is now a defensive end. Carroll dismissed Hill's size as being an issue in the secondary at the Division I level.
“The one thing in recruiting that they can't do is measure a kid's heart. He's just got an extremely strong passion and will to work.”
Hill's mental approach to the game should mesh with Troy Calhoun's Air Force program.
“Playing with these (York) boys, you get roughed up a little bit,” Hill said, laughing. “It's definitely my kind of football.”
His highlight film made its way all over the country, courtesy of the York coaching staff, and once Air Force's interest was formalized, the recruitment moved forward. Defensive line coach Ron Burton made two in-home visitsin January to pitch the school and its obvious benefits. Burton, a North Carolina-Chapel Hill graduate, and Air Force head coach Calhoun both have coached in the NFL, no doubt an enticement to Hill, while defensive backs coach Steve Russ also has roots in the Carolinas.
Hill committed to the school without having seen the campus, but a visit came the weekend of Jan. 19. He loved the clean, crisp Colorado air, the jagged peaks of the Rockies just behind the school and the world-class facilities. He was also pleasantly surprised by how close the Falcons players were.
Hill had offers from Holy Cross and Colgate. But Air Force's total package ultimately trumped the northeastern schools.
“As parents, that's what we were looking for,” said Chad's father, Boysie Hill, who joined his son and wife, Catherine, on Wednesday. “The education was first, the football was last.”
“We're very proud of him, very proud,” said Catherine. “I think he can handle it academically. He has AP classes and honors classes and does really well.”
There is the matter of the spartan existence that Air Force plebes lead, one replete with eye-watering early mornings, isolated hardships in the wilderness of Jack's Valley (Google it), and an endless regimen of rules and regulations. Hill didn't seem fazed though.
“It's gonna be different, but I think I'll get accustomed to it,” he said.
Boysie and Catherine Hill's fathers were both in the military, so the lifestyle is nothing new for the family.
“As long as you get up in time, you won't have any problems,” said Boysie, who served in the Navy. “Stay disciplined, and Chad will do that.”
Bret McCormick • 329-4032. Twitter: @BretJust1T