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Top pick isn't big, but his dreams are
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Tye Hill has been playing organized football since the fourth grade, but basically against his mother's wishes.
"Even when I was playing, she didn't want me to play," Hill said. "She tried to keep me from practicing some times."
Glennie Hill - his mother - did more than that when it came to older brother Roland. When one of Roland's friends suffered a broken leg playing football, Glennie made Roland quit the team.
Luckily for Tye, Roland is nearly 20 years his elder. Perhaps the passage of time softened up Mom just a little.
"She still thinks it's a dangerous sport," Hill said.
But Hill was able to finesse his mother. "I can put up with a little fuss," he explained, with a smile.
So he kept playing. ... At Woodland High School in St. George, South Carolina, where he was an all-state performer as a junior and senior. ... At Clemson University, where he blossomed into an All-America cornerback in 2005.
And now as the first-round draft pick of the St. Louis Rams.
"I always thought it was possible as a kid," Hill said Sunday, at his introductory news conference at Rams Park. "My parents always told me, if you're going to dream, dream big. And that's what I do."
In terms of sports achievements, Hill already is the biggest thing to hit St. George, a town of 2,100 - three stoplights, three fast-food restaurants - tucked between Columbia and Charleston. He already has been given the key to the city, and had his high school jerseys retired in both football and track. "I'm the first person to ever come out (of St. George) to go pro," Hill said. "I'm the first person to actually go play (college) ball on the level at where I played - at Clemson."
Hill was born in the nearby town of Orangeburg, S.C., hometown of last year's Rams first-round pick, offensive tackle Alex Barron. Hill's Woodland High team never played against Barron's Wilkinson High squad.
He did, however, run track in high school against Troy Williamson, a wide receiver from the University of South Carolina who was the No. 7 overall pick in the 2005 draft by Minnesota.
As a junior, Hill won the state title in the 100 meters and 400 meters.
"And then I came to the 200 and I got complacent," Hill recalled. "I thought I already won, and then Troy came back and beat me."
But Hill got even as a senior, defeating Williamson in the 200 at the state meet.
"Me and Troy had some pretty good battles," Williamson said.
On the track, and on the football field.
"It really became a reality that I could become a high-round draft pick when I played against him the year he came out (in the fall of '04), and I didn't give up a pass on him," Hill said.
But who knows if this happens had Hill not switched from running back to cornerback following the 2002 Clemson season? He asked to be switched to cornerback entering spring drills in '03, largely because he wanted to continue competing in track at college.
"I knew I was going to have to give up track because I was going to have to add more bulk to carry the load as a running back," Hill said.
At the same time, Hill didn't think choosing this course would hurt his NFL aspirations. He used the example of Terence Newman for motivation.
"During that time, Terence Newman was coming out in the draft, and he was an accomplished track athlete," Hill said. "And he was like a top 10 pick that year. I felt like if he could do it, I could do it, if I worked at it."
Newman, who ran track at Kansas State, was the No. 5 overall selection in the 2003 draft at cornerback by Dallas.
So except for a few plays here and there in high school, Hill's only experience at cornerback has been the past three seasons at Clemson.
"I have a whole lot of upside because I've only been playing the position for three years," Hill said. "I think I made tremendous strides in the course of these past three years."
All the way into the first round of the NFL draft.