TUCSON – Going into his sophomore season with Arizona, Austin Hill didn’t necessarily “want to be the man,” but he wanted at least to be a major target for Wildcat quarterback Matt Scott.
Point noted. While Hill describes his role as “to just do what’s best for the team,” it’s clear that what’s good for Hill also has been good for the Wildcats en route to a 2-0 start and unexpected top-25 ranking after last week’s upset of Oklahoma State.
Hill has made his way into the rankings as well: No. 4 in the NCAA for receiving yards per game (131.5). He’s averaging an impressive 21.92 per reception on 12 catches, including one spectacular touchdown grab against Toledo.
Hill said he hadn’t paid attention to the numbers until being told of the stats by friends on campus — and also by his father.
But his father also reminded him Arizona is just two games into its season.
“He said it really matters after the season,” Hill said.
Translation: Focus on one game and one play at a time while working out of the slot, inside receiver position in Arizona’s spread offense.
Hill says his position of preference would be as an outside receiver, but for now, he’s taken well to the slot.
“As of right now, I am more comfortable with the inside because I had some success from the inside,” he said. “I would love to go back outside, but it’s up to the coaches. No matter where they put me, I am just going to play.”
That’s what appeals to head coach Rich Rodriguez, who has a standout group of receivers in Dan Buckner, Terrence Miller, Tyler Slavin, David Richards and Hill. Buckner and Hill know all four receiving positions.
“Austin is one of the guys who has picked up the system really well,” Rodriguez said. “He knows all four receiver positions, and he has played pretty well in practice, but in games he has been even better. I have been really pleased with the way he has played, the way he has caught the ball and how quickly he has picked up the system.”
Quarterback Matt Scott calls Hill “a very dynamic receiver” who has made a smooth transition and had a quick impact in his first opportunity in a starting role. One catch in particular wowed Scott. Against Toledo, Hill made a spectacular diving catch for a touchdown on a ball that was thrown too high and far.
“I wasn’t expecting him to make a couple of those catches, but he’s good, and I wouldn’t expect anything less from him,” Scott said.
Said Hill: “Sometimes you have to help the quarterback out and make a play on a ball that isn’t thrown well.”
“Quarterbacks love that.”
Quarterbacks also like that he’s versatile. Hill’s ability to play all four receiver position matches his personality off the field. Sometimes a quiet loner, other times “funny and humorous.” He might loosen up just before a game, then just as quickly get serious and put on his game face.
“He’s probably a little bit of everything — fun, smart,” Scott said. “All our receivers have a good personality and are very easy to work with.”
The truth is in the numbers. Arizona ranks ninth in total offense with 562 yards a game. Almost 25 percent of those have been accounted for by Hill.