Past performances do not always guarantee future results.
That’s the lesson Delaware safety Nijuel Hill learned the hard way against Richmond last fall.
Hill collected a second-quarter interception that two plays later was converted into a touchdown for a 33-10 Blue Hens lead.
Then, for the second-year player, things evaporated as Richmond tried to mount a late comeback.
“Once the third quarter hit, and I felt more fatigued, they started throwing deep shot after deep shot. That’s when I told myself I didn’t prepare like I should have. You should know that out of this formation they like to run this play. Once I saw that on the film after the game, I obviously didn’t prepare as much as I should. When you’re in season, you can’t catch up on it right now, it’s over right now, you just have to finish it out as best you can, and that’s what I did last season.”
Hill, who had started 16 of his 17 games as a Blue Hen, suddenly found himself as a reserve in an experienced secondary.
The Baltimore native took that thought about film study to heart, and said it was his top priority after the season ended against James Madison in last year’s FCS Playoffs.
“My preparation. This summer I took film study way more seriously. My sophomore year I didn’t prepare as much as I should have. I wasn’t as humble, I knew what I could do, but I trusted so much in what I could do it crept up on me. I had the defensive backs come in with me and watch film on not only DelState, but North Dakota State, Pitt, and all of our opponents before even our coaches started looking at them.”
Hill’s potential was evident immediately, as he earned a starting spot during week 2 of the 2017 season, a game against FBS power Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg.
Delaware held Virginia Tech to 27 points that day, a quality showing against a team that stayed in the Top 25 most of the year.
Nijuel was the rookie then, but now as a redshirt junior, he’s the veteran in a back 4 that will include two sophomores and a redshirt freshman.
He’s ready to show the love he received at Virginia Tech.
“I always have their back, no matter what. When I was thrown into the fire at Virginia Tech, every time I made a play I had 3 or 4 guys clapping their hands. I’m just letting everyone know that I have their back, if they do mess up it’s okay, move on to the next play. You’re going to make mistakes, because nowadays, even veterans make mistakes.”
Veterans make mistakes, but they also lead successful football teams.
“I like it, I’m embracing the new role, especially how Coach Rocco said we need to step into the new roles this year. Having young guys come up to me and ask questions because they know I’ve been through it. Telling them my experience of what to do and not to do is a great experience to tell them how fast the game will be and how fast everything can come at you. You will be thrown in the fire, just because how young everyone is on the defense.”
Those traits have caught the eye of Head Coach Danny Rocco.
“In order to make plays and play with confidence, it starts with doing your job and focusing on what your responsibility is. I’ve seen a more consistent presence of that with Nijuel over the summer.”
Seeing that, Rocco named Hill one of the team’s captains for this season.
“The fact that Coach Rocco saw it in me, and saw all the preparation I’ve done in the spring and the camp, to make me a captain shows that all of my hard work is really paying off.”
Sometimes the hard work is simply learning your lessons on the football field the hard way, especially when you play so quickly into your career.
“Coming off my freshman year, I felt like I was on the top of the world, I felt like I was invincible and I could play with the big guys. I came off playing well against Virginia Tech and the CAA teams. Coming into my sophomore year campaign I was named starter again, I felt I couldn’t go downhill. At corner, that’s the one thing you can’t do. At corner, it can go downhill very fast. Always being level-headed and being consistent is my main key. Off the highs and the lows, being consistent, no matter how good or bad it may go. It will go good for me this year, but when it’s going good, I want to stay level-headed and keep that chip on my shoulder, no matter what.”
For a redshirt junior Nijuel Hill already has quite the past performance list, and Delaware hopes he can keep them in the winner’s circle early and often this fall.
HENS NOTES: Rocco said defensive end Brandan Hall is likely to be a “game-time decision” as he recovers from an injury… Former William Penn receiver Chi-Chi Amachi missed a week of practice, but is listed as a starter… Construction crews were still at Delaware Stadium Monday, but Delaware continues to say ticket holders will have their seats for a stadium whose capacity dropped to 16,730 for this season.