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Bleacher Report – Vikings

A look at undrafted CB Holton Hill’s journey to the Vikings’ roster

By Matthew Coller

Editor’s note: This article originally ran on July 24. With news that Holton Hill made the roster, we bring you the updated version:

At Houston Lamar prep school, Holton Hill was known as “Hollywood.”

It’s somewhat of an ironic name considering he isn’t the type to hype himself. Instead he was known for his understated personality and ability to break a game open at any time.

“He’s a laid back, quiet kid, he’s humble,” Hill’s Lamar defensive backs coach Theadis Reagins said over the phone. “I think he’d like to have his actions speak more than his words. He’s super, super competitive and he has a lot of confidence with his skills, but he’s quiet with it though.”

Hill led the state of Texas in interceptions his senior year. In the playoffs, he picked off two passes, giving him 13 on the year, and returned a punt for a touchdown in win over Seven Lakes. After that, Reagins was sold on Hill being an NFL talent.

“Before the game — he didn’t know this — but some of those guys were saying he’s an overrated kid because he was one of the top rated kids in the state,” Reagins said. “That game he had a big interception for us on a third down, he had a punt return for a touchdown. He made two huge plays for us and I said, this kid is special. He’s going to be playing on the next level because of those plays.

Players aren’t supposed to look like they’re running in slow motion in Texas high school football, but on Hill’s highlight reel they did.

When the time came, Hill chose the Texas Longhorns over Alabama, LSU and Baylor.

Four years later, the dynamic defensive back who helped forge the nickname “DB Prep” for Houston Lamar sat through seven rounds of the NFL draft without being picked. Hill sat on the draft board as Green Bay picked a longsnapper and Jacksonville selected a punter in the seventh round instead of taking a chance on him.

The lack of interest on draft day(s) wasn’t because of his on-field performance at Texas. As a junior last year, he picked off two passes, scored two touchdowns, defended six passes and picked up 51 tackles in nine games.

NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein wrote of Hill’s game:

“Hill made tremendous strides as a cover man this year and has the potential to take yet another big step forward once he trusts his footwork and becomes less grabby. His instincts and physicality in run support could allow teams to consider moving him to safety at some point.”

Hill was passed over because Texas head coach Tom Herman suspended him for a violation of team rules on November 7 and then Hill reportedly tested positive for marijuana at the NFL Combine.

When some kids leave high school, a coach might worry about how they will handle the next step, but when Hill graduated from Lamar, Reagins did not expect “character issues” and Hill’s name to become synonymous.

“He’s a really smart kid,” Reagins said. “He always went to class, always did his homework. He never had any issues with his grades. That’s why he was able to go to the University of Texas, because of that. I was surprised he had those off-field issues. I never saw it coming. He always carried himself the right way, did everything right in school, went to class, did everything right on the field, he was coachable. It was more surprising to me than anything, those off-field problems.”

Holton Hill and coach Reagins

You can see why Reagins would have been taken aback. In February 2015, Hill was one of five players in the nation to receive the Franklin D. Watkins award, which is presented to African American scholar-athletes. It’s chosen based on their unweighted grade point average, personal statements, extracurricular activities, community service and letters of recommendation.

Hill was a member of the National Honor Society and had a 3.5 grade point average.

When the Minnesota Vikings signed Hill as the No. 1 ranked (by ESPN) undrafted free agent, head coach Mike Zimmer said the team had been interested in Hill throughout the draft process.

“We’ve spent a lot of time with him,” Zimmer said. “He was here on a Top 30, we met him in Indianapolis. He’s a good football player, big, fast, tough, good tackler. We’ve had a lot of conversations with him. We’re excited, he’s got a chance. If he comes in here and do what we ask him to do, he’s got a chance.”

“We’ve done our due diligence,” Zimmer added. “We’ve talked with every one of his coaches he has ever had in his entire life, I think. We’ve talked to a lot of people at the University of Texas and we feel comfortable with the situation. But, it’s about the opportunity and what he does with that opportunity is up to him.”

Following minicamp, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported that Hill is getting help for his issue with marijuana.

The #Vikings are pleased with top draft pick Mike Hughes. And keep an eye on another rookie CB: undrafted Holton Hill, who has starter ability if he can stay clean off the field. Hill told me he hasn’t smoked and feels better since getting help. @nflnetwork pic.twitter.com/API8HoEWBe

— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) May 30, 2018

If you ranked every team in the NFL for a player with off-field problems to land, Minnesota would be toward the top. Last year, the Vikings selected Dalvin Cook in the second round and instantly him next to Teddy Bridgewater and Terence Newman in the locker room.

There are few organizations with the Vikings’ stability at head coach and with the level of established veteran leadership.

“I spoke with [Hil] about two weeks ago and he said he chose the Vikings for that very reason,” Reagins said. “He has a [college football] Hall of Famer as his position coach [Jerry Gray] that he took well upon. He wants to be coached by him. He gave the staff a lot of credit. That’s why he chose to go to Minnesota.”

“He loves coach Gray.”

The Vikings not only offer a good situation, but they have also built a reputation for developing young defensive backs. Under Zimmer, Xavier Rhodes has grown into a Pro Bowler and Trae Waynes took a significant step forward last season.

From afar, Reagins has been texting messages of encouragement to Hill.

“I told him to stay focused,” Reagins said. If he stays focused off the field, the on-the-field stuff is going to take care of itself.”

“I think he has to just go in and learn the system, the defense and focus on doing that and I think he’ll be successful because he has the skills and he’s a really smart kid,” Reagins added. “When he played at Texas you saw that he made plays on the field. So there’s no doubt he’s a playmaker at his position. He just has to take care of the off-field problems.”

Reagins said he believes the next step for Hill will be a successful one. And nobody is more confident than him that Hill will prove to be a difference maker in training camp.

“He’s definitely going to make the roster,” Reagins said emphatically. “He’s going make the roster.”

Update:

While Hill didn’t have the strongest preseason debut in Denver, he did catch the eye of teammates on the practice field early on in training camp.

“You can see he has the confidence,” receiver Stefon Diggs said. “At corner, guys are feeling their way around. He has that confidence and plays with it. I like him as a player and I like what he brings to the table.”

“Holton is good man,” cornerback Xavier Rhodes said. “Great guy. Chip on his shoulder. He is hungry. Actually, he pulled me to the side last night, asking me a question. That is the type of guy you want on the team, who is willing to learn, can do whatever it takes to be the best. I can see it in his eyes that he really wants it.”

Each week he improved and in the Vikings’ final preseason game, when Hill needed to be at his best, he came through in the same way he did at Lamar, picking up a 53-yard kick return against the Tennessee Titans, making several key tackles and flashing explosiveness on a deflected pass. In four preseason games, he finished with 14 tackles with four run stuffs and allowed nine catches in 14 attempts his way, according to Pro Football Focus.

“We just look for him to continually show progress that way, because he’s got the ability to stay on top of routes,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said. “He’s got the ability to cover, but understanding the techniques and fundamentals and doing it consistently every day is a big thing for him right now. We just look for him to continue to progress.”

On cutdown day, Holton Hill proved his former coach right by making the Vikings’ 53-man roster.

The post A look at undrafted CB Holton Hill’s journey to the Vikings’ roster appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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