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August 23, 2011

Hill takes long route to spotlight

MORE NIEBUHR: Memphis vs. Nashville | Weekend best

When his team defeated Franklin Road Academy 21-16 last week, all Collierville (Tenn.) St. George's offensive tackle Brandon Hill could do was watch from the sidelines.

And it killed him.

A highly regarded 6-foot-7, 358-pound prospect with several big-time offers , Hill currently is ineligible because of the state's transfer rules. He arrived at St. George's, a school just east of Memphis, on Sept. 15, 2010, meaning he isn't allowed to compete until Sept. 16 of this year.

"Right now, if you put me in a jungle with a lion, I'd come out with a fur coat," Hill said. "I'd go and get that lion. That's how hungry I am."

Hill might not be happy about sitting out, but he said it sure as heck beats the alternative.

At his old school, and in his old neighborhood, things weren't great, which is why he left. His grades at Memphis Manassas weren't very good. Neither was much of his life outside the classroom or on the football field.

Hill was unhappy there. And his mom was fearful for his safety.

"This new school has been nothing but a blessing; a pure blessing," said Erica Lee, Hill's mother.

Manassas was Hill's third high school in three years. Yet, he quickly fit in, and began his junior year as a starter at tackle.

Local gangs, however, made life tough. According to Hill, those gangs wanted him badly as a member because of his enormous size. When he resisted their invitations, he was attacked.

"They jumped me," Hill said. "They were kids that already graduated. There were three of them. One was my size; two were average size. I held my own."

Regardless, his mother had seen enough and immediately pulled him from the school, just a few games into his junior season.

"Being there was a threat to his safety," Lee said. "It was heartbreaking. He never got in any type of trouble. For them to try to recruit my baby, I couldn't fathom that."

The search for a new environment led Lee to St. George's, a private school roughly 45 minutes away. One of Hill's coaches at Manassas had ties there, but for Hill to gain admission, he had to pass a standardized test. According to Lee, she applied for scholarships, which were needed to help her foot the bill. Within a week, both hurdles were cleared, and Hill enrolled at St. George's, a small-school power, along with his cousin, Omar Williams, a running back.

"I'm used to making friends, so it wasn't hard," Hill said of the transition.

At St. George's, the coaches already knew of Hill because the school had played Manassas that August.

"He was really good," coach Brent Hill said. "He started at tackle and was huge. We knew that. I remember when he showed up. You don't forget that."

Once at St. George's, Brandon Hill was allowed to practice with the varsity but could only compete for the junior varsity, his coach said. At that level - and in varsity practices -- he found zero competition.

"It was ridiculous," Brent Hill recalled. "The last week of practice I'm not exaggerating when I say this he threw a kid that was on defense. I'm not kidding. He literally threw the kid. And the kid weighed probably 215 pounds."

While Hill's size is the attention getter, his coach notes the player has excellent feet and moves well for someone his weight.

"The thing is, for a kid that size, he also has strength and speed," Brent Hill said. "We tease him about it. We say he's been touched by God. There's not many built like that."

During the long off-season, Brandon Hill and his coach hit several camps throughout the Southeast, and that is when the player went from virtual unknown to hot recruiting commodity. Georgia offered. Then Mississippi State. Then Alabama. Then Tennessee. One SEC school pulled the trigger without ever seeing him in person. And Hill, who also plays hoops, even picked up an offer from UCF -- for basketball.

"It seems like he gets new [offers] every week," Brent Hill said.

Hill currently has no leader, but he is high on Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi State and Southern Miss, the latter of which offered while he was at Manassas. He plans to visit each of those schools this fall along with one other, then make a decision sometime after that.

Right now, there is only one thing left for Hill to do, and that is suit up for the St. George's varsity. That will happen, at long last, in Week 5 against Fayette Academy.

"I'm ready to play," Hill said.

Hill, who has since moved from his old neighborhood to be closer to St. George's, said he has no hard feelings toward those he left behind at Manassas. But he is happy with how things have turned out, even though he lost so much playing time.

"I like it here a lot," he said. "I've met new people and I'm working hard. I'm doing better here in school. A lot better. You can ask me a good question and I think I can answer. I think it was the best move I've made."

Keith Niebuhr can be reached at kneebs01@aol.com. You can follow him on Twitter @KeithRIVALS.



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