Joining fellow head coaches Dan Hawkins, Ed McCaffrey and Troy Taylor for a session of the Big Sky Conference’s discussion with coaches as part of virtual media day, Weber State head coach Jay Hill described how his team has navigated 2020 after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin killing George Floyd on May 25 sparked a new conversation about racial equality in the United States.
He said he believes the diverse makeup of a football roster and how they behave is an example to the rest of the country.
“I’ve got Polynesian players that grew up in the islands that never were around white or African-American players. I’ve got African-American players that didn’t have hardly any white people in their high schools. Or a kid who grew up in small-town Idaho or small-town Utah and they weren’t around African-Americans,” Hill described Thursday to the group of coaches and to Mariluz Cook, the conference’s director of media.
“And you put them all together and they love each other, they get along and they fight for each other. Isn’t that the example we want for this country?”
Hill says he sat down with his team in groups of about 17 players after Floyd’s death and asked them to simply speak their minds to each other.
“For our white players to listen to what some of the African-American players have gone through growing up, I thought it was very eye-opening to them to just hear those stories. And they grew closer, and they loved each other more when they left there,” Hill said. “I thought that was huge for our team to be able to do that in that small setting. ... I know I grew closer to them and gained a much better appreciation for what players go through.”
Hill also said he embarked on trying to make sure what Weber State football did to be a part of change went beyond social media posts.
“Since that time, I’ve been able to meet with the chief of police, I’ve been able to meet with state senators, I’ve been able to meet with the mayor of Ogden, just to see what we can do. How can we move the needle and actually make a difference?” he said.
“We’re trying to get our players out in front of it, build relationships with the police officers and actually make a difference in this world on how we can move forward. I think that what’s happened in the last month will really define this country and where we end up 10 years from now. And I hope it does. I hope it really is a thing that spurs change.”
Other topics Hill addressed during the media day session:
PLAYING WITH VIRUSHill said he’s grappling with being able to move forward in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
“If we don’t get to coach, I don’t care who you are, you aren’t yourself. There becomes a psychological toll that takes place. There were times I’d come into my office, and I’d be the only guy on campus, and I’d just watch film just to feel normal again,” he said.
“I think that’s the case with your players. If they’re not out on the field, psychologically, that’s hard on them. These players, to be themselves, need to be playing. We’ve got to find a way to protect them, we’ve got to do everything with testing and all that stuff, but these guys need to be playing somehow, someway. And I hope and pray we can do it this year because, like I say, you’re taking a big chunk of who these kids are if they don’t get to do that. We’ve got to find a way to keep them safe doing it.”
STAYING HUNGRYIn response to a fan question about staying focused after three straight Big Sky titles, Hill said: “You get your butt kicked if you’re not. There’s too many good teams, you can go from the top to the bottom in a year.
“If you want to get embarrassed, act like you’ve arrived.”
BIG SKY ROSTER“There’s way better talent in this league than most people think. That’s one thing that makes it unique. The other thing is, from top to bottom, every week you’re in an absolute battle and you beat up on each other. The good thing about that is the teams that get out of it are really prepared for the playoffs. So our top two or three teams can play with anyone in the country,” Hill said.
“I love the schemes in this conference. Every week, people play with no fear. They absolutely just let it rip and you better be ready for everything.”
QB CHANGESAmong several quarterback changes, Weber State loses two-year starter Jake Constantine, UC Davis loses three-year starter Jake Maier and Northern Arizona loses yaradge-leader Case Cookus. Coaches in all sessions were asked how the big turnover in starting quarterbacks this season will affect the conference race.
“I don’t think it affects it at all,” Hill answered bluntly.
“A couple years ago, Eastern Washington plays for the national championship with a first-year quarterback, Eric Barriere. He ends up being one of the best players in the league, he hadn’t started yet and they go to the national championship. Sac State and UC Davis did the same thing, it was either a new coach or a new quarterback and they go all the way to a conference championship,” he explained.
“We’ve done it with Jake Constantine in his first year and Stefan Cantwell the year before where a brand-new quarterback takes over and you still play for a conference title. I just think the coaches have done such a phenomenal job with that position, it doesn’t matter who takes over, the coaches are going to do a great job with them.”
D-LINE LOSSESHill said it’s the nature of college football to reload, even when losing All-Americans like Adam Rodriguez and Jonah Williams. He noted after 2018, his defense lost six starters between the linebacker and secondary groups but still had the best defense in the league in 2019.
“We reloaded, the next guy steps up and we had another good defensive year last year. That’s part of college football,” he said. “That’s just part of what we do. You hopefully have your backups learning until it’s their time and when it is their time, they step up and play like the guy ahead of them or better.”