If you compare Virginia Tech cornerback Cris Hill’s career to the two other players from the Hokies’ 2007 recruiting class who were rated as four- or five-star recruits by Rivals.com, it pales in comparison.
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor rewrote Virginia Tech’s record book, while right tackle Blake DeChristopher is now in his fourth year as a starter and earned preseason all-ACC recognition before this season. Hill, meantime, has started just two games and mainly played on special teams during the past three seasons.
But it seems 2011 is the year Hill will finally make his presence known for Hokies fans wondering what happened to such a talented high school prospect. The fifth-year senior finished with a team-high seven tackles against East Carolina, and had a key third down pass break-up late in the fourth quarter as the Pirates threatened to pull off an upset.
“I was a highly talented recruit but it didn’t play out as I envisioned when I first came in here,” Hill said this week. “I just stayed in there and kept my head high and making the most of it now.”
Hill has benefited the most from the Hokies’ nickel package, which defensive coordinator Bud Foster is once again turning to early in the season because Virginia Tech’s first three opponents — including Arkansas State this week — all run some variation of a spread offense.
During nickel situations, Hill comes in as the team’s field cornerback, while starter Kyle Fuller moves to the nickel cornerback position. To get a sense of just how much Virginia Tech used its nickel scheme against East Carolina, just consider that Hill played 57 snaps on defense last Saturday, one less than Fuller and one more than junior Jayron Hosley.
During the spring before the 2010 season, Hill got a chance to win the starting job over Hosley opposite Rashad Carmichael. Hosley proved to be an all-American-caliber cornerback last year, and defensive backs coach Torrian Gray indicated that while Hill had the natural speed to get on the field, he lacked focus at times and his technique remained raw.
Hill reflected on what kept him off the field over the years this week.
“Just basically being consistent play-in and play-out,” he said. “I’ve always had the talent, but in the defensive backfield one play can cost us a game so it’s just so critical that you have the mind-set and you focus in each and every play because you never know a long play can be hit.”
There were no such big plays against him this past Saturday, and Coach Frank Beamer said Monday it was Hill’s best performance since coming to Virginia Tech. The team’s captains awarded him his first-ever game ball afterwards.
“It’s his time in the barrel so to speak, and he’s taken advantage of it and playing well,” Foster said. “We’re fortunate right now. Sometimes it’s hard to find four good DBs, let alone a fifth one.”
Gray thinks Hill’s big game against the Pirates will only bring about more opportunities for a player who is emerging later than some expected.
“Mentally he had to prepare and he went out and had a helluva game,” Gray said. “So now that gives Coach Foster confidence, gives myself confidence, that if we’re playing a team that’s gonna spread us, you know you’ve got a guy who is gonna give us flexibility and help us play against those teams.”