It was hot. Unnaturally hot for football, that’s for sure.
And yet after Saturday morning’s scrimmage at Stewart Stadium, Jay Hill’s players were getting in some extra running, just to build a little more endurance for the season to come, for frigid fourth quarters somewhere in the future.
This isn’t unusual. It’s what football teams like Hill’s Weber State squad do in August, when camp starts to wind down and the season approaches.
What Hill has brought to Weber State isn’t radically different, or at least it doesn’t appear to be. Other coaches before him have conducted similar scrimmages at Stewart Stadium. They’ve asked their guys to push hard in the heat of August knowing they’ll be grateful for it in the cold of late November.
So what’s different? That remains to be seen.
Not long after the scrimmage broke up and his players were gulping down water, Hill offered this assessment of his team, which kicks off the 2014 season on Aug. 28 at Arizona State.
“It’s how much they continue to buy-in,” the first-year head coach said. “Can we win the Big Sky with this team? Absolutely, if they buy-in. Executing the way we are right now, we won’t, we won’t win the Big Sky.”
He went on to say, as coaches often do, that if his guys stay committed to him, themselves and, of course, the team, they will be just fine.
“If we continue to take steps forward each and every week, then we can,” he said, with no small amount of passion in his voice.
Looking at a small gathering of media types, Hill wore black shorts, a thin black T-shirt and sunglasses. Naturally, we couldn’t see his eyes but it’s fair to assume he wasn’t winking or rolling them as he talked about his Wildcats.
Granted, nobody expected him to stand there and rip his team. It would have been shocking if he’d stood there and say, “We’re terrible. We’ve got no chance. Maybe next year, fellas.”
Even so, the positivity was sincere and completely appropriate. It certainly didn’t feel like hot air because there was plenty of that coming from Mother Nature anyway.
Hill is a good coach, make no mistake. He has learned from great mentors and he appears to have the right personality to lead young men in this day and age. He won’t have to beg them to follow him or to buy-in to what he’s selling. He is young and energetic and they can see that.
“He’s a players coach, I love playing for him,” quarterback Billy Green said. “He’s a guy that will jump you when you need it but he’s never put you down and make you feel bad. He’s always building you up, trying to get the most out of players. I love playing for him.”
Green is expected to be the Wildcats’ starting quarterback this year, although that’s not official yet.
But Hill, in a testament to what you just read from Green, isn’t the type to play mind games with his players.
“As of right now, I definitely see him as the starter,” Hill said. “We haven’t announced that yet but I definitely see him as the front-runner for that spot.”
Hill then listed things Green needs to do in order to get better, in order to maintain his position as the No. 1 QB. He then rattled off some of Green’s qualities.
Look, the Wildcats are coming off a couple of terrible seasons. They went 2-9 two years ago, 2-10 last year. If you saw a win at Stewart Stadium recently, I hope you took a picture of it because there weren’t many to be seen.
The point here is, the ‘Cats not only have a really difficult schedule this season, they’ve got to change a culture, which isn’t easy.
Hill said his guys have the talent to win the Big Sky if they buy-in. That’s a nice sentiment but experience, the schedule and the teams at Eastern Washington, Montana State, Montana and Cal Poly will offer a cold reality.
When asked if his team is flying under the radar and could that help the ‘Cats surprise some people this year, Hill didn’t play games with his words.
“I’ll say this, in college football nobody should take you for granted,” he said. “No team should take the other for granted. Does it happen? It does. But from flying under the radar, I don’t know. From a week in-week out perspective, I don’t think anyone’s going to take us for granted.”
In other words, turn up the heat and let’s see if Jay Hill’s Wildcats start cooking.
Jim Burton is the Standard-Examiner’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 801-625-4265 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @StandardExJimbo