Nick Hill, the newest member of the Green Bay Packers whose signing was announced this past Friday, took an unlikely path to the NFL.
It's a journey that started as a multi-sport athlete at Du Quoin High School in Illinois where he was a first-team All-State selection in both football in basketball.
After high school, however, he choose to attend Western Kentucky University on a basketball scholarship. But after one year, his coach left the program and so did Hill.
He transferred to Southern Illinois University, close to his hometown, where the plan was to play both basketball and football. And he did participate in both sports for one season, his first at SIU, the year he could only practice but not play due to NCAA transfer rules.
Hill finished out his eligibility at Southern Illinois by setting single season records in passing yards (3,175), touchdowns (28), completions (258) and attempts (361) and leading the Salukis to the FCS national semifinal game his senior season.
Post-college he played in the Texas vs. the Nation college all-star game and had a cup of tea in the NFL, signing with the NFC North division rival Chicago Bears as an undrafted free agent, even though he didn't play in a regular season game.
"I had an opportunity to sign with the Bears and go up there and go through OTAs and minicamp," explained Hill in an interview on Cheesehead TV's Railbird Central Monday morning, "and I don't even know, it was about a week in training camp. That was an experience that that will definitely help me out."
From there, Hill took his game to the arena leagues where he played with af2's Rio Grande Valley Dorados in 2009 and the AFL's Orlando Predators in both 2010 and 2011 before signing with the Tampa Bay Storm in the offseason.
Hill continued his high level of play by leading the AFL in passing yards per game (297.4) and total offense per game (321.8) in 2011. As a testament to his overall athleticism, Hill also led the Predators in rushing this past year by running for 391 yards and nine touchdowns.
Even while he was in the Arena League, however, he was on the radar of the Packers.
As Hill explains it, one of his coaches in college, Caul Mauck, was his ticket back to the NFL.
Mauck, an assistant at Southern Illinois, was a former teammate of Packers general manager Ted Thompson with the Houston Oilers in the 1970s. The two had kept in contact and worked together to set up a tryout for Hill during the 2010 season, about the same time Aaron Rodgers was dealing his second concussion of the year.
"I thought the workout could go about as good as it could go," said Hill. "I don't think they called me because Aaron had a couple concussions. I think they were just working me out for getting a feel for me, for like last year's offseason.
"But then obviously last year the lockout kind of ended that and there was no signings in the offseason. It went straight to training camp, and they had all three of their quarterbacks. Really, it was a long year, but I played in the Arena League. It probably worked out better, me coming in this year than last year anyway."
Now Hill has the luxury of an offseason to grasp the Packers' offense, learn from Aaron Rodgers and attend head coach Mike McCarthy's famed quarterback school, even though it might be shorter than prior years thanks to the NFL's new Collective Bargaining Agreement requiring fewer offseason workouts.
"Excited would be an understatement," said Hill. "I think that I just want to learn more about the game. I don't think there could be any better situation as a quarterback to come into than coming to Green Bay, just watching (Rodgers) work, and what he does, and how he prepares and dealing with Coach McCarthy. I think for a young quarterback, I don't think you could ask for anything better."
With Matt Flynn set to become a free agent this offseason and very likely depart Green Bay, Hill enters a situation with little stability backing up Rodgers.
Graham Harrell, the No. 3 quarterback each of the past two seasons, is the favorite to climb up the ladder and become the primary backup to Rodgers. Working in Harrell's favor is his knowledge of the Packers' system, but he's also short on NFL experience.
That leaves the door open for a player like Hill to become the backup or third-string quarterback with an impressive showing, although a spot on the regular season roster isn't a given. There's a decent chance the Packers could add yet another quarterback this offseason, either via the draft or free agency.
Asked whether Flynn's eventual exit had an impact on Hill's signing with the Packers, the first-year NFL player said, "I think maybe a little bit. I think obviously they're going to have sign another quarterback if Matt decides to sign as a free agent somewhere else.
"But really, all that kind of stuff is out of my control. They asked me to come in there. If there were six quarterbacks in there, I would be there. I'm just ready to compete, control what I can control, and that's coming to work every day and practicing hard, and preparing myself to do the best that I can."
The circumstances are perfect for both parties. Hill joins a team that very likely has the need for depth at quarterback, and Green Bay is one of the best places to learn the position in the entire NFL.
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