Hill stands in there

By Gus Bode

Quarterback is the glamour position of sports, even on a running football team.

They get the glory when their team wins. They take the heat when they do not produce to expectations during a loss.

Nick Hill lived the former after five wins in his first five starts, but since his first loss as a starter – 37-10 to Illinois State on Oct. 14 – the smart money is on Hill taking some criticism.


It comes with the territory.

“That’s where everybody looks,” SIU’s quarterbacks coach Pat Poore said. “That’s just the nature of the beast.”

Hill, a junior from Du Quoin, had a less-than-stellar statistical day. He finished with 88 yards passing and an interception – his first of the season – with one touchdown in a loss that knocked the Salukis out of the top 10 in national rankings.

It was the biggest game of the season up to that point – a game that Saluki fans pined for after last season’s double-digit loss to the Redbirds. But if there was an expectation that Hill would fold up the tent, he knocked it down quickly.

“I’m not a pouter, and I’m not going to hang my head,” Hill said. “That was only my sixth start. I’ve just got to keep on getting better and take this and put it in my brain and know that the next time it comes up like that, I’ve got to be better.”

In the weeks leading up to the game, Hill played like another young quarterback on a run-first team. Ben Roethlisberger appeared to write the book on how to manage a game, make plays when necessary and display leadership beyond his young career in his two seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It may seem silly to compare a Division I-AA quarterback to a guy who led his veteran team to a Super Bowl win but Hill, like Roethlisberger, is called on to produce offense through the air as it plays off of the run. He has also been asked, like Pittsburgh’s young gunslinger, to learn on the fly.


“I’ve just got to keep on getting better and take this and put it in my brain and know that the next time it comes up like that, I’ve got to be better.” – Nick Hill

Jerry Kill, SIU’s head coach, took responsibility for Hill’s interception right before the end of the first half, and he went on to explain that he was happy with Hill’s progress and said he would improve as the season continued.

“Nick is 5-1 and learning at a fast curve,” Kill said.

Through six games it appears Hill has picked up on his lessons for SIU (5-1, 2-1 Gateway) despite a game that had some fans scratching their heads. Balls that found receivers early in the season missed their targets, but Poore said Hill was not a solo act in the loss.

“Call it an excuse or whatever, but we just didn’t have our day,” Poore said. “The plays that we had been making, we just didn’t make – whether it be a ball placement or a drop or a bad route or a decision – they all just kind of fell together in a sequence where it just didn’t go well for us.”

Kill and Poore spent much of Tuesday’s practice working with quarterbacks and receivers, something Kill said he would have done regardless of the outcome of the ISU game.

The game marked the first time since SIU’s season-opening win over Lock Haven that Hill did not pass for at least 110 yards with an efficiency rating of 171.9 or better. While the numbers do not stand out for their sheer statistical excellence in yards or attempts, it is tough to argue with the result leading up to the ISU game.

Even after the Illinois State game, a performance Hill said he cannot repeat for the Salukis to be successful, his 162.2 quarterback efficiency rating still leads the Gateway Football Conference for signal callers with more than 90 passing attempts. Hill has completed more than 60 percent of his passes with an eight-to-one touchdown-to-interception ratio through six starts.

But there is still the sting of the loss, even if it was to a top-five team. High expectations come with the territory for an SIU quarterback. The team has won three straight conference championships and had a level of success foreign to fans that have shaved for more than five years.

There is also the ever-present specter of Joel Sambursky, SIU’s career leader in nearly every passing category, who looms in the background whenever Hill’s name is mentioned.

Whether comparisons between the two are fair or not, it’s something Hill will have to deal with for the remainder of his time as a Saluki. Kill even pointed out similarities between Sambursky and Hill and said he thought Hill progressed at the same level of his former quarterback through this stage in their careers.

As for Hill, he said he understood what kind of team the Salukis were – a ground-pounding team – but he still believed he could produce the kind of pass-happy production the Salukis might need from him to win a game in which the run was not effective.

He had a chance to prove it in the Illinois State game but missed – something Hill said he did not think would happen again – but something he also said did not matter as long as the Salukis got a win.

“I’m confident, I feel as confident as anybody going out there- especially on Saturdays – if I’ve got to throw for 300 yards or if I’ve got to throw for 100 yards, it doesn’t matter to me,” Hill said.