Things looking up for Hill

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:03 AM ET

Hakim Hill wants to say hello, look you in the eyes and tell you about himself.

Then, and only then, can the star of Argos training camp present the new and improved Hakim Hill. The Hill, he says, who has changed, who has a deep belief in God and who has left his troubled past behind.

"I don't want people to Google search me, I don't want people to read about me, I want people to see me, see the God in me," the running back, who is the son of ex-NFL all-pro receiver J.D. Hill and the youngest of five brothers who all played NCAA football, said.

"I just want people to meet me, shake my hand, talk to me for a bit and then make a decision whether they are going to like or dislike me. I think if people meet me, they'll see something completely different than what they might read."

What they will see is an articulate 22-year-old athlete who will introduce himself, call his conversation-mate by his or her name and never lose eye contact. What they will not see is any hint of a problem-filled past that does not mesh with the engaging personality he currently exudes.

Hakim Hill has been booted out of two universities (Arizona State and Northern Iowa) and has spent time in jail as recently as February, after an alleged fight with police officers for which he has a scheduled trial date on Aug. 1 in his hometown of Iowa City. On the Iowa state court website, a search for Hill's name produces 14 different files.

Yet here he is today, with old and new friends singing his praises as he begins what he hopes is an non-traditional route to the NFL.

"People that do not know him find it hard to believe when I say this: He is a really good kid," said John Raffensperger, a legendary Iowa high school track coach who coached Hill to state championships at City High and who remains a close friend.

"He is one of those guys who has made some incredibly difficult and bad decisions over his career. But in a one-on-one situation, he is just a great person."

UNDOINGS

Immaturity and alcohol, Hill believes, were his undoings. In high school, he pleaded guilty to shooting joggers with stolen paintball guns and was later sent to jail for two days for drunken driving.

"A lot of stuff was just timing. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time," Kahlil Hill, one of Hakim's older brothers, said. "(But) there was nothing specific. I can't pinpoint one reason (for his problems)."

Later, Hakim Hill was convicted with assault causing injury following an incident where he was accused of forcing a girl to have sex in a City High classroom.

This past December, he was sent home from Arizona State after he broke a team rule before the Sun Bowl (reportedly, there was a fight involving several teammates). Then, after Northern Iowa agreed to bring him aboard, there was the incident in February when, police reports say, a drunken Hill fought with officers, refused to be handcuffed and made death threats. Police were responding to a fight at a hotel in downtown Iowa City.

"I was angry at certain situations, my coach (Arizona State's Dirk Koetter, who declined an interview request about Hill) and I didn't get along very well and I let that change me," Hill said. "I let that change the way I behaved. I started drinking a lot (Hill says he cut down his consumption of alcohol recently) and I was just unhappy. You can't be angry, you can't let that affect you.

"It was time to grow up, time to stop being angry about things and time to stop living like a child and be a young man."

Otherwise, he was destined to spend more time in jail.

"It is humbling, very embarrassing and definitely not a place I like to be," Hill said. "I'm not scared of the people in there, I'm just scared of the fans and media when I come out. I'm scared of the bad publicity and embarrassing the family or team I'm with."

But something good was happening during a tough winter. After Hill was dismissed from Arizona State, Argos assistant general manager Greg Mohns added him to the Argos' negotiation list. On his way to scouting a college all-star game in January, Mohns went to Arizona to visit Hill and his family. He chatted with Hill for four hours.

"The thing I sold (Hill) was that we have a very unique individual as our head coach in Michael Clemons," Mohns said.

"About that time, one of the newspapers had written a tremendous article on Michael and what he's all about. I told him to get on the web and read it. I told them this is a guy who could maybe be a difference-maker in his life and become a mentor and a lifelong friend ... I was really selling Michael and his ability as a person more than selling football."

It worked. After Northern Iowa pulled Hill's scholarship, he signed with the Argos. Hakim's mother, Caryl, a law school graduate who has held executive positions with various companies, met Clemons after Hill scored a spectacular 51-yard touchdown during the pre-season finale in Hamilton.

"(Clemons) is a wonderful man who sets a wonderful example for Hakim," Caryl Hill said. "I am proud Hakim is there and I am glad he has all this support. After the game, I met his teammates and they all said, 'Mrs. Hill, we're going to take care of him,' because my son is one of the youngest guys there. I really appreciate that."

BAD ATTITUDE

Those teammates probably wouldn't be saying that if Hill had a bad attitude or lacked talent. But this is a guy who once ran the 100 metres in 10.46 seconds, who sent cards to his old track coach's wife on Mother's Day beginning with 'Dear Mrs. Coach,' and who was a soloist for an award-winning high school chorus. When a reporter called Hill's high school recently to try to track down his old coaches, the secretary said, "Most of what we've heard (about Hill) lately has been bad. But I only wish him the best."

Said Mohns: "(Offensive co-ordinator) Kent Austin (came) up to me and (said), 'Greg if you hadn't told us about some of the problems, I never would have guessed it.'"

For the rest of his life, Hill will have to prove people wrong. Just two years ago, Hill returned to Iowa City with Arizona State to play the beloved Iowa Hawkeyes. His hometown university had recruited him, but coaches there wanted him to play safety, not exactly a sign of respect.

"There were 70,000 people booing me every time I got the ball," Hill said. "I think they were a little bitter that I didn't end up in black and gold. But that's all right. If they don't boo, that means they don't care about you."

Toughness, it seems, is one of Hill's greatest attributes. Last year with Arizona State, he played with a broken arm against Oregon. Hill rushed for 134 yards in a win.

TALENT

"There never has been a question about Hakim's talent," Koetter, the Arizona State coach, told reporters after the win. "For him to play like he has under the circumstances with his arm (being broken), it says a lot about Hakim and I'm proud of him and what he is doing for our football team right now."

"I think he is the most complete player (in the family)," said Kahlil Hill, who was released by the Buffalo Bills this month. "He can do what we do (the other four brothers were all receivers), but we couldn't do what he does."

The future appears promising for Hakim Hill. While a possible trial is hanging over his head, there is a chance he won't have to go to court. Anne Lahey, the assistant county attorney in Johnson County, said she is hopeful there can be a resolution without a trial.

The backup to John Avery, Hill calls the veteran tailback a mentor. The Argos have given Hill a much-needed football home and he plans to take full advantage.

"I'm very grateful to be here and I love my teammates," Hill said. "This is the first team I've played for where I can honestly say I like everybody on the team. I love the coach we're playing for and I have somebody who just inspires me. I've never had a coach that just makes me want to play for him.

"Consistency is the key to my life right now. Being a consistent good athlete and consistent model citizen. Consistency wipes out the past ... All I want to do is stay consistent."


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