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Wyoming’s Hill won’t be a secret for long

There are a lot of good running backs in college football, but one of the best may be a kid you’ve never heard of.

Oh, who am I kidding?! I’m writing on a website devoted to Wyoming Cowboys fans, you’ve all heard of him. But outside of Laramie and the UW community, the name Brian Hill goes largely unnoticed.

I shouldn’t need to list all of his accomplishments for you, but I will anyways. He was a 2015 Doak Walker Award semifinalist and was named 2015 second-team all-Mountain West. His 2015 season was ninth-best in the country and led the Mountain West. He set the UW single-season rushing record by nearly 200 yards and he now sits fifth on the UW career rushing list, just 536 yards shy of the top spot.

So what is it that people are missing?

I think the biggest thing that goes unnoticed is his intangibles. Just ask his position coach:

“Our strength coach will tell you he’s the hardest working guy in the weight room,” Mike Bath told the Belleville (Illinois) News-Democrat in December. “He wants to be the best and when you find a coachable kid like that, you have somebody’s that’s really special … his football IQ is so high. His ‘want to’ is off the charts.”

On the field, Hill is an old-school RB. He will run you over if you get in his way. At 6-foot-1 and 219 pounds, Hill is built to take a beating. He’s tough enough to play through injury, as seen in his freshman season against Fresno State.

Speaking of the Fresno State game, has a dominant performance ever gotten as little publicity as Hill got after that one. He got a bit of recognition in the week following the game, but it pales in comparison to the hype some other college RBs would’ve received with a similar performance.

In case you’ve forgotten, Hill ran for 281 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries and caught three passes for 106 yards. His 387 all-purpose yards were a Mountain West Conference record. Oh yeah, and that was the first start of his career for the true freshman.

Even opposing coaches are noticing. One MWC rival’s coach sees similarities between Hill and one of the NFL’s best young RBs.

“He runs a little upright like Todd (Gurley) but still has the ability to get behind his pads and break tackles, which is impressive,” CSU coach Mike Bobo told The Coloradoan in November. “I think that’s how you judge a great back. It’s almost never going to be big every time. It’s the ability to break tackles and get yards after contact and then when you do give him a hole, he’s able to take it the distance.”

Still, Hill flies under the radar in terms of national perception. I expect that to continue through most of the season. That’s actually something that could work in our favor, as he may decide to stay at UW for his senior season. The depth at RB will push him down draft boards, and he may want to improve that draft stock.

He’s a bit limited right now in his overall skill set as a RB. He still needs to improve both his pass-blocking and pass-catching if he wants to potentially be more than a two-down back in the NFL. Still, his ability with the ball in his hands will translate across any era. There will always be a need for physical runners inside the tackle.

Yet he still goes unnoticed on a national scale. Why?

He’s in a loaded class. The 2015 sophomore class featured Christian McCaffrey, Leonard Fournette, Royce Freeman and Dalvin Cook. All from Power 5 schools, and all with more rushing yards than Hill. Those guys have been on the national scene since high school, while Wyoming was one of just three Group of 5 offers. Even in the greater St. Louis area, he was overshadowed by the higher-profile Ezekiel Elliott, who was a year ahead of him in school just 23 miles down the road.

It’s also tougher to get noticed in the West. The exposure seems to always be heavily weighted towards the East Coast teams and players. Top teams of the West will usually get their due, but even that can take a little longer than it should. I’m not sure how many expect him to declare for the draft early either, as it tends to be less common at lower-profile schools.

Last year’s schedule also works against Hill, because even the highest-profile games weren’t seen by a wide audience. The highest-profile game was against Washington State. Though it was a relatively early start, the game went up against Stanford-USC for ratings. Good luck with that! None of the four games on the ESPN family of networks started before 10:15 p.m. on the East Coast. Going up against that schedule will always make it more difficult to be seen.

This season can go a long way to Hill being recognized on a larger scale. Week 2 at Nebraska will be Hill’s first opportunity to make a statement. Nebraska is a national brand. Even if the Huskers aren’t what they once were, they still finished second in the Big Ten in rushing defense in 2015. It will be a good test and I expect Hill to be up for the challenge.

Thankfully, the Cowboys should be better in 2016. With more wins comes more exposure.

Whether we have him for one year or two, let’s not take the Brian Hill era for granted. It’d be easy to gloss over the era because it hasn’t started with much team success, but we are witnessing history every time he hits the field from here on out.

Everyone around Laramie and the UW community knows the name Brian Hill and it won’t be long before the world knows his name.