Notre Dame freshman Kolin Hill's motor always revving

Bob Wieneke
South Bend Tribune

With his team coming off an 0-10 season in 2012, Jared Johnston knew that exposure for two of his star players, twins Kolin and Kaleb Hill, wouldn’t be as easy had the numbers in the win-loss columns been switched.

But with the belief that both were Division I-caliber players, Johnston, the coach at Samuel Clemens High School in Schertz, Texas, called a preseason meeting with the Hill brothers and their father.

“I said, ‘What you need to do is, you do football. You concentrate on football, you concentrate on your grades, we’ll take care of the highlights, we’ll take care of all your video. You do what you need to do,’” Johnston recalled. “I said, ‘Hey, look, I’ve been doing this for a while. If you have the season I’m projecting you to have, which they did, I said you’re gonna blow up.’”

Johnston couldn’t have called it any better.

Three games into the season, with the Hills manning the defensive end spots, the Buffaloes had allowed just three points, according to Johnston. The defensive success served as a detonation on the brothers’ recruitment.

First, Incarnate Word, a school just up the road in San Antonio, inquired about Kolin. Then Texas State. Boise State began to wonder about both players, which was followed by Texas Tech. Then, late in the season, Johnston received a surprising phone call.

“And it’s a number I don’t even recognize, so I don’t even answer it,” he said. “I have no idea who this is.”

It turned out to be from Notre Dame secondary coach Kerry Cooks, who recruits Texas. He had seen video of Kolin and was wondering if he could swing by the school to meet the burgeoning prospect.

It wasn’t long after that when Kolin, who has not been made available for interviews since arriving at Notre Dame, committed to the Irish. Although the ND staff did have to hold off a late push from newly hired Texas coach Charlie Strong.

“Kolin had already visited Notre Dame, loved it, and that’s where he wanted to be,” Johnston said, “and that’s where he felt he should be.”

Where the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Hill found himself last Saturday night in ND’s 31-0 victory over Michigan was on the field, a vital member of a defense that harassed Wolverine quarterback Devin Gardner all game long. The linebacker was credited with 1.5 sacks and three tackles.

“He’s explosive. First-step explosiveness,” said Irish coach Brian Kelly. “He can come off the edge. He gets there quickly. He forces you to pull up in the pocket, can bend around the edge. A really, really good athlete.”

Johnston saw that when he took the Samuel Clemens job following Hill’s sophomore year. After the 0-10 season, Hill weighed in at 190 pounds, but it was then that the work began.

“We lifted five days a week. After school he had to come in and get a second lift on his own,” Johnston said. “And of course he worked out on his own all summer. So he put in the work.”

The following year Hill weighed 225 pounds and his time in the 40-yard dash dropped from 4.8 seconds to 4.5. The transformed body resulted in Hill registering 96 tackles and 13 sacks as a senior.

The other part of the tag-team wasn’t bad either as Kaleb earned a scholarship to Boise State, where he’s expected to redshirt this season. Johnston says the Hills will say it’s not tough being apart, but he believes otherwise.

“But just from me being around them for two years, I’m sure it was,” Johnston said. “I never saw them not together. They were always together.”

Kaleb may be idle this season, but Kolin continues to wreak havoc, something Johnston isn’t surprised by. In fact, the pedal-to-the-metal speed that Irish fans saw for the first time Saturday night was something that Johnston saw on a regular basis on the practice field.

“He practiced like it was game night,” Johnston said. “We did a lot of good-on-good when I first got there, and after the first week I had to stop good-on-good or get him out because I didn’t want him to hurt one of our starters on offense, because he went so hard, all the time.

“I think that’s going to be one of the keys that makes him successful.”

Twitter: @bwienekeNDI

Notre Dame freshman linebacker Kolin Hill registered 1.5 sacks in last Saturday's victory over Michigan (AP Photo/MICHAEL CONROY)