Notre Dame freshman Kolin Hill learning the ropes

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Learning is accomplished in stages by young guys on the Notre Dame football team.

When stages are rushed, or even skipped, the result can be somewhat unsettling.

Maybe panic even sets in.

Kolin Hill, for all intents and purposes, is a one-trick pony right now. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound freshman from near San Antonio, has been programmed to pursue the quarterback on third down.

Anything beyond that will have to wait until the next stage of the process, which probably won’t happen until the spring.

What Hill does, he does well.

The rookie didn’t play against Rice, but got comfortable enough in a package to be a role player against Michigan and Purdue. In those two games, he has five tackles, two sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss.

It was against the Boilermakers when things got a bit interesting for the youngster.

“One missed fit…,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “I don't know if you're watching, but (Purdue’s offense) went hurry-up and (Hill) got caught on the field with our regular calls. It was like his hair was on fire. He wanted to get off the field so fast.

“It's that kind of, ‘This is too much. I know, third down; I know what to do in this third-down package, but I don't know all the base calls.’

“When they know what they know, that's when we're ready to play them. Kolin knows what he knows, relative to our third down package. When those freshmen get that knowledge base down, then we're ready to play him.”

“That one play, for certain, kinda messed me up,” said Hill, whose twin Kaleb is redshirting at Boise State. “I didn’t know what personnel (group) I was supposed to be in. I know what to do now in that situation. It’s not going to happen like that again.

“It was kind of embarrassing, in a way… A little bit of panic.”

Learning can be accomplished in many different ways. If it takes panic to get a lesson across, so be it.

It was Hill’s basic physical attributes that convinced Kelly, defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, and line coach Mike Elston that he was ready to be counted on for a significant contribution.

“Retention of information (was important),” Kelly said. “When we're going through our team work and (freshmen) can repeat what we're asking them to do without making the errors…

“(Hill's) explosive; first-step explosiveness. 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.”

“I’m a fast learner, but I’m still learning,” said Hill. “At practice, I’m really focused on what my job is. When we watch film, I’m learning from it as well.”

Hill credits his work in practice with catching the coaches’ attention.

“My first couple snaps against Michigan, I was getting used to it,” Hill said. “Even before that, during practice, I was practicing at a good level. When we would do one-on-one pass rushing, coach Elston would see some sparks; some good things out of me.

“I knew I could make an impact on this team, in some way.

“I knew I could make an impact on the team. That Michigan game (two tackles, a sack, 1.5 tackles for loss) I wanted to show what I was capable of doing.

“You have to have a role. I’m accepting my role. I’m a third down type of guy. They use me in pass rushing. It is what it is, and I like being in that role.”

Hill is well aware of the challenge over the next 10 weeks, starting with Saturday’s trip to New Jersey to play Syracuse.

“I need to get my assignments and techniques down,” he said. “I’ve made mistakes, like everybody else. I just have to get that better. There’s nothing really difficult in the defense, at least in my position. I just have to go out and do it.”

Once one stage is learned, then it must be mastered.

Only then is it time to move on.

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Notre Dame freshman pass-rush specialist Kolin Hill (43) has made an immediate impact on the Irish defense. (AP Photo/MICHAEL CONROY)