Nov. 1, 2013
When he heard the call for a volunteer, senior linebacker Aaron Hill jumped at the chance. The Golden Gopher football team was going through boot camp with a leadership and team-building group whose instructors usually have a military background.
"They called for somebody to come out and lead the warm-up," Hill said. "I went out there on a three-quarter jog."
Going into boot camp, Hill and his teammates were not sure what to expect. They soon found out. Hill got an earful, questioning his effort. The instructor sent him back and asked for a new leader.
"I went right back out there full tilt," Hill said. "I'm a competitive guy, so I knew right away as soon as he called that I was going to step right back up there and get back in the fire. That was definitely an eye-opening experience, in the aspect of knowing that you can always give more. If we want to turn the program around, it's going to start with us as the players. It's a mindset of us going out there and bringing it every day."
"I felt sorry for him at first, because he volunteered for it, and then he's getting ripped in front of everybody," Minnesota strength and conditioning coach Eric Klein said. "But I respect him for jumping right back up and taking charge again and handling the situation in the right way."
The leaders challenged Hill to see how fast he could get his team lined up for drills, and to lead them in precise, coordinated exercises. He said that the instructors' critique of his leadership skills helped him to know his strengths and weaknesses, and that vocal leadership was an area he knew he needed to improve. He had a chance to work on that right away, as leading drills required constant, effective communication.
Hill may have only recently found his voice, but he has been a leader by example all along. The St. Charles, Mo., native originally walked on to the Minnesota football team. He has now been a regular starter the last two years. Prior to the 2013 season, head coach Jerry Kill called Hill one of the best leaders on the team.
"I'm a positive guy," Hill said. "I bring a lot of energy. I think that's one thing that's critical and important, especially during the season."
In each of the past two seasons, Hill has also received the team's Butch Nash Award for competitiveness on the field and in the classroom.
"I think it's very important," he said. "Education is important in my family. I think that's been important to help me play the game. Academics is always a big thing."
Hill credits former teammates, including Mike Rallis, Gary Tinsley, Keanon Cooper, Simoni Lawrence, Nate Triplett and Lee Campbell, with teaching him to lead. The experience of going through a coaching change during his college career has also helped him learn the importance of "being able to adapt and adjust. I think the biggest thing is just being yourself, going out there and working hard every day to be the best you can be."
Hill would, of course, like an opportunity to play in the NFL. But whenever his playing days are over, he plans to become a strength and conditioning coach. He has learned both in the classroom, as an applied kinesiology master's student, and in the weight room, from Klein. Klein believes that Hill's practical and academic understanding, and his ability to relate to people, would make him successful in the profession.
"He's a natural leader," Klein said. "It's never forced. It just comes out of him naturally, and it's really awesome to watch. I think he's got a good command of his own presence, and I think guys feed off of that."
Story by athletic communications assistant Justine Buerkle
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