Michigan freshman safety Dax Hill said he's not overthinking his playing time and taking it "week by week". Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — Safety Dax Hill arrived at Michigan this summer, a five-star recruit, the nation’s top-rated safety who had committed to the Wolverines, then flipped to Alabama, then flipped back to the Wolverines, adding to his allure upon his arrival.
Expectations were he’d make a big splash even as a freshman with his noted speed and man coverage skills developed at Booker T. Washington High in Tulsa where he made 93 tackles, had four interceptions and nine pass breakups as a senior. Safeties coach Chris Partridge wasn’t about to rush the freshman onto the field, especially because the freshman went through the bridge academics program while balancing football in preseason camp, while acclimating to college life.
But Hill has started to play an increasing role, notably at first on special teams and now in the defensive backfield. Hill has four tackles against Rutgers and a highlight moment when he drilled Rutgers’ Avery Young on a punt return. The following week against Iowa, he had six tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup. It was in the Army game that he converted a fake punt catching a 25-yard pass.
He said it was in the Iowa game that he began to feel comfortable playing at the college level. Hill said he has no desire to rush the process and is doing whatever coaches ask of him.
"I’m taking it week-by-week, not trying to overthink anything, just trust my abilities and the coaches,” Hill said Tuesday night after practice. “Just trusting the process throughout this whole season.”
Senior safety Josh Metellus said Hill is coming along quickly in the defense.
“He’s learning fast, he’s listening. He’s listening to coaching, he’s listening to the older guys like me, Vert (Hill) and Brad (Hawkins),” Metellus said. “He wants to play, he wants to be competitive. He wants to be able to go out there and make a play.”
Hill has a quiet focus and determination.
“He don’t speak out as much,” said Metellus, who conversely, is loud and fiery. “He’s a competitor. You can see that in his eyes especially when we get in workouts or on the field. You could just see it. He wants to win every rep and be able to play.”
And he’s quiet off the field, as well.
“He just don’t speak loud — he’s going to have to really get close to this,” Metellus said, tapping the microphone, inciting laughter among the gathered reporters. “I probably got bad hearing. People tell me I got bad hearing. It’s probably just me. I think he’s kind of a quiet guy.”
Hill was soft-spoken as he addressed local media for the first time at Michigan. Metellus walked past during the interview and jokingly said, “I told you,” loud enough to be heard by reporters.
Being loud is probably low on his list of priorities, though. Hill now has a half-season under his belt with the Wolverines (5-1, 3-1 Big Ten), who are preparing to play at unbeaten Penn State at Beaver Stadium on Saturday night, and he figured out the balancing act that is school and football.
He is not the rest-on-laurels type and his high school accolades are long forgotten as he pursues this next step.
“I didn’t think about that coming in,” Hill said of being the five-star recruit. “I knew all that didn’t matter. That was in the past, high school. Coming in, I just wanted to compete and see where I could contribute.”
Backtracking a bit to the late recruiting battle, Hill didn’t want to share much, but suggested he wasn’t thinking straight when Alabama made a hard push to flip him from Michigan.
“I didn’t really know where my head was at, at that time,” he said. “That’s what happened right there.”
Why did he change back to Michigan?
“Just how I felt at that time,” Hill said.
He had developed a close relationship with Michigan tight ends coach Sherrone Moore, who recruited him, and in the end, it was all about comfort and feel.
“Really just how I felt with everybody, the coaching staff, the players, just the school overall, the history,” Hill said.
Partridge has said Hill might be the fastest player on the team, and Jay Harbaugh, who also assists on special teams, described his “maniacal” attention to detail and “businesslike” manner.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh praised Hill after the Rutgers game and said he wasn’t going out on a limb by raising expectations for the freshman.
“He’s going to be really good,” Harbaugh said. “He picks up stuff really fast and he’s really good.”