Persistence through adversity lands Collin Hill his first start since 2016

Eddie Herz

A total of 747 rehabilitation and effort-filled days in a training room and as a backup.

That is the amount of time it has been since redshirt sophomore Collin Hill last started a football game for the Colorado State Rams. The lengthy duration will not reach 748 days though. Hill will be under center for the first snap of the 2018 Border War on Friday.

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To say the South Carolina native has endured a struggle since his last start would be an immense understatement.

The quarterback suffered a season-ending knee injury during his last and fourth career start against Utah State on Oct. 8, 2016. Hill was off to an efficient start after taking over the starting role for Faton Bauta in the third game of the 2016 season. 

CSU quarterback Collin Hill (15) winds up for a pass at Hughes Stadium during the border war against Wyoming. CSU lost 38-17 on October 1st, 2016 (Luke Walker | Collegian).

Hill completed nearly 60 percent off his passes once he earned the starting job, threw for over 1,000 yards and accrude eight touchdown passes and two interceptions.

Just as Hill’s momentum stopped dead in its tracks in 2016, the quarterback’s progression was halted again over one year later.

After redshirting the 2017 season, Hill critically re-injured his knee playing basketball before spring practice 2018. Hill was forced to retreat to square one of his recovery process.

Now, around six months after his most recent surgery, Hill has battled his way back to the position he was in 2016.

Hill’s teammates could not be more proud of their peer. 

“It’s awesome,” senior receiver Olabisi Johnson said. “The adversity he’s worked through, he’s been very persistent on everything. He’s worked very hard in the training room, very hard off the field, everything like that. Just to see a guy who has put in so much work, it’s finally paying off.”

To say the least, Hill was ecstatic when he received the news that he would be starting for the 2018 Border War against Wyoming.

“Yeah it’s definitely a bit similar to my freshman year,” Hill said. “It’s like I said since I’ve gotten here, I’m going to prepare like I am the starter, whether I am or not. For me the preparation doesn’t change.”

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It has been a while, but the quarterback is aware of the responsibility of taking over the starting job. His experience in 2016 could bode well for him as he moves forward.

Yeah it’s definitely a bit similar to my freshman year.It’s like I said since I’ve gotten here, I’m going to prepare like I am the starter, whether I am or not. For me the preparation doesn’t change.Collin Hill

For someone who has confronted as much adversity as Hill, starting against Wyoming most likely gives the quarterback reassurance that all of his efforts have paid off.

The manner in which Hill performed against Boise State last week administered confidence as well. It seemed the only thing missing for the quarterback was a rhythm, and something to build off of both mentally and physically. He finally achieved that against the Broncos.

Hill struggled in the five games he played in prior to Boise State. The limited role in which he only earned a few reps or one possession here and there was evidently tough to adjust to.

But against the Broncos, Hill entered the game and completed his first seven passes. In total, Hill went 12-14 through the air for 135 yards and a touchdown. The Rams found the   in both of Hill’s drives under center.

“After the game I talked to him and he was like, ‘Yeah, honestly it felt really good to just go out there and get a rhythm,’” Johnson said. “I could see it in him, just his mood and everything after the game. It was definitely better than some of the past games…So it should be good for Friday.”

It is almost a guarantee that Hill is CSU’s future starting quarterback. The team captain has two full seasons left with the Rams, while graduate transfer K.J. Carta-Samuels is on his way out. 

K.J. Carta-Samuels high fives Collin Hill in between drills at practice on August 2. (Ashley Potts | Collegian)

Since Carta-Samuels has started every game so far for the Rams this season, he’s likely a bit more experienced. Still, CSU is 3-5 and gravely needs a victory over their rivals from Laramie this week.

Though the future may be in mind when making the decision to start Hill, Coach Mike Bobo is of course searching for victories right now as well. Hill has a savvy knowledge of the offense, given that he’s been a part of Bobo’s system since 2016.

Bobo believes Hill gives the Rams the best chance to win right now, even if the quarterback still is a ways away from reaching his full potential. Having a recent productive outing under his belt helps Hill’s case as well.

“We are 3-5, I believe we need a spark as a football team,” Bobo said. “I’ve been saying all along that he has been practicing well. And I felt like I would do something if we needed a better chance to win.”

Fate appears to be in the equation. Hill’s last full game as a starter came against the Cowboys. Though Wyoming defeated CSU in 2016, the quarterback threw for a career-high of 370 yards. The 23 completed passes from Hill in the contest are also the most he’s notched in a single game.

Losing to the Cowboys then was the first of two occurrences in which Hill hopelessly looked on as Wyoming celebrated with the Bronze Boot, which is awarded to the winning team.

Hill wants to be on the other end of the celebration as much as anyone on Colorado State’s roster. It feels like destiny placed Hill in the position he finds himself in.

“I just remember them running to get the Boot at Hughes,” Hill said. “That stuck with me. Then last year, in all that snow, watching them go get it, grab it, celebrate. That is the thing that sticks out the most…I’ve never touched it. I’ve never won it.”

Eddie Herz can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @Eddie_Herz.