"…pick of the draft, the 325 lb. DE from football powerhouse Stillman, Sammie Lee Hill!"
You bet. In an innovation that worked beyond their hopes, Greg Thompson, head coach of the Stillman football program, spoke to Dennis Conner, his OC, and they decided to try something new on defense. Their answer was Sammie Lee Hill, a very big, very versatile player with a lot of skills.
'I think I announced it at the press conference,' Thompson said. 'I knew he was a defensive player.'
Why wouldn’t he be? Mostly, because he could have been the next Shaq O’Neal. He had serious skills as a basketball player. And for all his size, Sammie Lee can jump. He can also play linebacker and tight end. He even played kicker. Oh, yes, and a little DT. So, why the move to DE?
Defensive coordinator Dennis Conner first had the idea. When Thompson took over as HC, Conner spoke to him and they decided that placing Hill to the outside would let him avoid double-teams and take ½ the field away from the running game. With Hill’s speed, he would always make it over to seal the outside.
“He was also a heck of a basketball player,” Conner said. “He's got good feet and good agility for his size.”
But it was on an extra-point attempt that Hill made the vast extent of his skills plain.
'He was the up-back on the PAT team,' Thompson said. 'We muffed the ball, and the kicker just threw it up blindly. Sammie reached back with his left hand and snagged the ball. Then he ran over two defenders for a two-point conversion.'
When asked if the experiment as a 325 lb. DE is working, Hill replied, “Yes, sir, I do. There's a lot less running the ball my way. They do not run the ball my way, pretty much.” Hill holds Warren Sapp has the player he models his game after. It’s a good place to start.
You might have caught the ‘sir’ in Hill’s response. It’s a normal part of his speech. Sammie Lee Hill was taught manners early by his momma, Gloria Hill, while growing up in West Blocton, Alabama.
“She's a caterer and the best cook in the world,” Hill said. “There's no way I got to be 325 pounds by looking at somebody else cook. I learned to feed myself at an early age.” It’s not all he learned.
He learned from her that character counts. He believes that this will matter when draft scouts look at his film and look at his record of achievements. This was his response when asked if he approved of Roger Goodell’s approach to minimal tolerance:
“Yes, sir, because if you are presenting money, a lot of money, to these players, character does play a big role. I'm sure that he doesn't want to go out there and pay these players all that money just so they can mess it up. I think that he's been handling it really well.”
Hill doesn’t let his beliefs stay on as a lot of easy talk. He is willing to put his life on the line for them. In fact, he already has. Hill and two other Stillman players were heading back to campus when they saw flames and smoke coming from a house. A young woman was frantically trying to flag down help. When they backed up and stopped, Cassandra Webb told them that her father, Curtis Webb Sr., was inside. Hill tells it this way:
“Sure enough, there was a lady outside saying that her father needs help. All we could do was put our hands over our faces and hope that we didn't get hurt. We looked up, and, well, it was a blessing that we could grab him and protect ourselves so we all were safe. We all grabbed hold of him and carried him out of the house. It's not a situation I ever thought I would be in, but that's the way I was raised. I was happy I did it.”
Hill added, “There was a lot of media and press coming around after that happened. It was OK. I felt like I didn't need all that, because I would want somebody to do the same thing for my father or mother in the same situation. God blessed us in that situation. If it was me and my parents were in that situation, I would want somebody to help me.”
When asked where he learned those values, his answer was simple. His momma taught him the values he lives in his life. Whatever happens this spring, Hill will always be successful because he’s successful as a man.
Hill, majored in health and secondary education, plans to graduate in May. He knows NFL scouts are watching his progress.
“My approach to my senior year (was) that I want to put in a lot of hard work and effort into what I'm doing, playing football and being a student, too,' Hill said. 'Being here made me better and more mature. I grew up at lot at Stillman. It made me into the man I think I'm going to be in the next couple of years.”
Maybe it did. But his upbringing made him into the man he will always be. So, if a team decides that they want a huge, run-stuffing DE with basketball jumps, linebacker feet, TE hands, ST skills and a mean jump shot, they might want to see if Sammie Hill is still on the board. He knows that being from a small school will play against him. Why did he go there?
“I was overlooked by a whole lot of schools, so my Defensive Coordinator kept calling and calling and that was the last place…(it was) my last chance to get a full school scholarship and play football in college.”
Hill was about 270 coming out of high school and some didn’t expect him to keep right on growing. He seems to be a little bit of a late bloomer. And now?
“6'4, about 325, and around a 5.00 flat.” Glenn Dorsey had a 5.2 40.
Hill is comfortable with the thought of playing the 3-4 or the 4-3, and at DE, DT or NT. Or tight end, for that matter. And although he’s at peace with the factors that weigh against him; coming from a small school and with a short record at his unusual position, he expects to be successful at the next level. Why?
“For my size, I have tremendous athletic ability, I would say. I am hungry to play NFL Football.” That’s a powerful statement from a man who clearly knows a lot about hunger.