Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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Finally healthy, Hill’s optimistic

When the Wisconsin football team practiced Saturday for the
first time this spring, no one was likely more excited to hit the turf than
P.J. Hill.

For the Badger tailback, it was the first time he’s been
able to take part in the team’s spring drills. Last year, following his
impressive freshman campaign in which he ran for 1,569 yards and 15 touchdowns,
he was forced to sit out after undergoing shoulder surgery in February.

Injuries also plagued Hill during the 2007 season, as a leg
bruise caused him to miss all or parts of four games. In fact, durability has
been the gray cloud hanging over him during his two years as a starter.

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Now injury free, it’s understandable why Hill was all smiles
after practice when talking to the media.

?I’m just ready to roll,? he declared. ?I’m feeling much
better, and I’m ready to get the season started.?

With just one look at Hill during practice ? which the team
ran without pads and just helmets ? those in attendance would notice a slimmer
P.J. Listed at 227 (significantly down from his freshman weight of 242), he
claims to be feeling as good as he ever did ? if not better.

?This is the first time my body’s been feeling really good,?
Hill said.

For his sake, Hill had better hope he stays healthy for the
entire season, something he has yet to do in three years at Wisconsin. We’ve
already seen two other tailbacks ? Zach Brown and Lance Smith ? fill in during
his absence; if Hill were to go down again with another injury, it might be
tougher than before to reclaim the top spot in the pecking order. Aside from
Brown and Smith itching to get their reps, there’s now another back to throw
into the mix, as freshman John Clay ? who in high school was rated as one of
the best backs in the country ? is now eligible after redshirting in 2007.

None of this seems to concern the quiet but confident Hill,
who felt his performance in the Outback Bowl (132 yards on 16 carries)
reasserted him as the go-to guy.

?It was very important to me because it showed I still had
my swag,? Hill said of his showing in Tampa. ?I was out there feeling good. ? I
just played like the same old P.J.?

That same old P.J. is hopefully the same one fans grew
accustomed to seeing in 2006, not the one who spent a significant part of the
2007 season on the bench.

I’ve got to give credit to Hill for handling the situation
how he has. It would be easy for a player in his situation to come into the
spring practices, assuming he’s the top dog in the backfield. After all, why
shouldn’t he be? He’s carried the ball for over 1,000 yards in each of his
first two seasons and has 31 total touchdowns.

But when asked if he expects the starting role, Hill
acknowledged the work he has to do to stay No. 1.

?You can’t just think you’ve got the spot,? he said. ?When
there’s competition, that shows you’re strong at what you want to do at that
position. It kind of just makes you work harder.?

The crowded backfield could have the potential to cause
tension among the team’s tailbacks, as each is vying for playing time. But Hill
said this isn’t so with him and his teammates.

?We all get along. We’re just like a bunch of brothers,?
Hill said. ?We know at the same time we’re out there competing and on Saturday,
someone’s going to be the only one left.?

If Hill stays healthy, he’ll likely be the one left to fill
the starting role.

But that’s a big if.

?

Tyler is a junior majoring in journalism. Share your
thoughts about Wisconsin’s running back situation with him at [email protected].

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