Tech's Hill grows in maturity, consistency

In front of tens of thousands of fans who agonized with each dropped pass, Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill grew up last fall.

In coming months, the Yellow Jackets hope to profit from that maturity. Entering preseason practice, wide receivers coach Buzz Preston said he hoped to see Hill become more consistent in catching passes, executing his assignments and practicing with effort.

“He’s made great strides in that direction and all those areas,” Preston said.

The Jackets will again look to Hill to be the big-play threat that he wasn’t in 2010, when inconsistent play and dropped passes contributed to Tech’s 6-7 record.

“I just felt like I was trying to do too much,” Hill said. “Not reading the coverages like I was supposed to, I was just going out there running around like my head was on fire.”

The season ended with Hill unable to play in the Independence Bowl for failing to meet Tech’s academic standards. He finished the season with 15 receptions for 291 yards and three touchdowns, all team-highs. His 19.4 yards-per-catch average touchdown-to-reception ratio speak to his capacity for big plays, but his three games without a catch, all losses, reflected his inconsistency.

“That’s the past,” Preston said, “and now we just have to move forward.”

As with many Tech players, the misery of 2010 served as fuel for Hill’s workouts and practices in the offseason. Hill was one of the team’s most diligent workers over the summer in strength and conditioning workouts. That has translated into better performance in practice thus far.

Hill, who is academically cleared to play, said he has been reading coverages better and focusing on each play. He goes to Preston often to make sure he’s staying on track. He is more fit and can concentrate better, which he feels contributed to his drops.

“Trust me, it’s not going to be a factor,” Hill said.

With a new quarterback in Tevin Washington, Hill is putting more responsibility on himself to make sure passes connect. He credits his thinking to advice from former Tech star wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who worked out at Tech during the NFL lockout.

Said Hill, “He said, ‘You’ve got to go get the ball. That’s something that you’ve got to do as a receiver.’”

While it might seem only recently that Hill was the subject of a recruiting battle coming out of Miller Grove High, Hill is a junior and dispensing his own wisdom to a talented trio of true freshman wide receivers who are pushing for playing time.

“We’re making sure that we’re getting them in the film room, teaching them this, that and the other and things like that,” Hill said.

Whether the Jackets will throw more than they have in coach Paul Johnson’s first three seasons, when they’ve averaged 12.5 passes per game, is another story. But it sounds like Hill will be more prepared whenever the ball comes his way.

“I think last year, he went into the season with a lot of weight on his shoulders, trying to be that guy,” wide receiver Tyler Melton said. “This season, he’s just being Stephen Hill.”