Every player Weber State football coach Jay Hill signs today in his first recruiting class likely dreams of overcoming the long odds against reaching the NFL.
The first-year Wildcats coach came close enough to taste that dream, but wasn't invited to stay for dinner or dessert.
After his playing days at Ricks College and the University of Utah were over, Hill signed a free agent contract with the Buffalo Bills; the cornerback played in four preseason games but was released before the start of the NFL regular season in 2000.
Another contract with the New York Giants also ended without Hill playing in an official game.
"That got old quick," Hill said. "You get your hopes up, get your dreams up and then all of a sudden -- bam! -- crushed again."
It was a similar story for Hill during a brief stint in the infamous XFL -- a circus of a pro football league run by World Wrestling Federation owner Vince McMahon that lasted one season in 2001.
The talent and team locations in the XFL were good, Hill said, "but the problem you had was I don't think the people liked the mix between the WWF wrestling and the football. It was too much. It took away from what people loved as the sport of football. There were too many distractions from the game."
Hill signed with the Orlando Rage, but got hurt and didn't even make it to the beginning of the XFL season in the spring of 2001.
"That was part of that whole year of frustration through professional football," he said. "There, actually a couple weeks before the first game, I'm starting, and then you get injured and you're out. You go from being the starter to out in a matter of days; that's the bitter reality of professional football."
While Hill wishes he'd been able to last a few years in the NFL, "the biggest lesson I learned was how good you have it in college football, how fun it is. The business aspect is big in college football but it's not like in the NFL," he said.
"I also took the fact that, OK, that was one dream gone, but you can still accomplish your other dreams in life. Even though that one didn't materialize 100 percent, there are still other goals you can reach in life."
Hill accomplished one of those goals Dec. 12, 2013, when he was announced as the 11th head coach in Weber State history after working and coaching in some capacity or another at his alma mater, the University of Utah, for the previous 13 years.
The time and effort spent trying to break into professional football gave Hill a perspective on the talent and work required to play in the NFL, he said, something he can teach to his Weber State players.
Hill's first task after being hired was to get a coaching staff in place. He started quickly by stealing away offensive coordinator Steve Clark and defensive coordinator Justin Ena from in-state rival Southern Utah. Then they went to work, with Hill going through the process of hiring and filling out his coaching staff during days and contacting and recruiting players at night.
The next pieces of the puzzle begin to fall in place today, as Hill and his staff host a signing day party at 6 p.m. at Stewart Stadium to announce which players have inked a national letter of intent to become Wildcats.
Hill was hired at Weber State on the strength of his reputation as an in-state recruiter and on the promise that he would heavily target Utah players. Ideally, 60 to 70 percent of a recruiting class will come from Utah high schools, he said; what percentage of local signees will be on the field next season is hard to say because some of them may leave the country instead.
"What's going to be weird about this class is that a lot of these kids will go on missions," Hill said. This is not a unique phenomenon for a college program in the state of Utah, but it is unusual in contrast to recent years at Weber State. In addition, Hill said Idaho, Las Vegas, California and Texas are also recruiting areas of focus.
In between hiring and recruiting, Hill and his wife Sara are preparing to move their family of four kids north from Murray; they've finally found a house in South Ogden they can move into in a few weeks.
Next up is spring football, where Hill will get his first on-field experience running practices and try to begin a turnaround for a Wildcats team that had a 4-19 record over the past two seasons.
There are challenges, and opportunities, in taking over a program that needs to rebuild.
"We've got to dig out of an academic hole they had with their (Academic Progress Rate)," Hill said. "That's one issue we're overcoming, but the biggest thing is, we've just got to get our kids to believe in how good this place is. We've got good facilities, we've got good players, we've got good budget, we've just got to get them to believe that if they do things right, we're going to win football games. And we will."
Contact reporter Roy Burton at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @RoyBurtonSE.