The last time Austin Hill suited up for the Arizona Wildcats in a game, he caught eight passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns in the UA’s dramatic win over Nevada in last year’s New Mexico Bowl.
Nine games and a torn ACL later, Hill is closer than ever to returning to the field.
Rich Rodriguez said Monday at his weekly news conference that Hill has been cleared to practice after undergoing knee surgery in May.
Hill, who led the UA with 81 catches for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns last season as a sophomore, put on cleats for the first time two weeks ago and starting today, will begin participating in individual drills with the rest of the wide receivers.
He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during spring drills.
“His doctor from back home cleared him to take that next step,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t know what that means as far as availability of when he will play yet. He’s been out there running around with the trainers most of the time. Starting this week, he’ll be doing some with Coach (Tony) Dews.
“That’s good to see.”
The receiver told the Star last month that he thought there was about a 30 percent chance he would return this season.
Hill redshirted in 2010 as a true freshman, meaning he likely couldn’t get a medical redshirt season if he missed this entire year. So in other words, when the receiver is ready to go, Rodriguez expects to put him in the lineup.
“If he can come back at the end of this year or next year, you’re talking about a guy that’s one of the best in the league as far as catching the ball and understanding the coverages and where to go and ball skills,” Rodriguez said. “Austin has worked really, really hard and he looks great.
“Whenever we get him back, whenever that is, I think he’ll be an even better player.”
It still sounds like the Corona, Calif., native is a ways away from being cleared to play in games, but it’s certainly a significant step for Rodriguez and the Wildcats.
“Cleared to practice and do individual (workouts) is not the same as cleared for a game,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t make those decisions. The trainers and the doctors do. He’s bigger and stronger than he’s ever been and I think he’ll be faster.”
Hill will have the option to forgo his final year of eligibility and enter the 2014 NFL draft. Rodriguez said Monday the two haven’t talked about that yet and instead are just focused on getting Hill healthy.
“He may do what some other juniors do with the paperwork and get the projection of where they could if they came out,” Rodriguez said. “It doesn’t hurt the underclassmen to do that. He may, I don’t know if he’ll do that or not.”
All players united
Linebacker Jake Fischer, receiver Terrence Miller and running back Daniel Jenkins donned a minor fashion statement Monday at the news conference, and it had a purpose.
The three UA seniors wore black bracelets with the phrase “APU—All Players United” on it.
The “All Players United” movement began earlier this season by the National College Players Association and aims to advance the cause of college football players.
Some of the specific areas it targets include sports-related medical expenses, employment opportunities, player transfer rules and scholarship terms.
Before the season, Fischer, along with UA kicker Jake Smith, was one of six current players to join a federal antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA, which was originally filed by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon in 2009.
The suit, settled in September, alleged the NCAA and EA sports violated antitrust laws by using players’ names, likeness and images in video games.
The lawsuit and the APU movement seek to bring attention to many of the same issues.
Even though he was wearing the bracelet and was involved in the lawsuit, Fischer didn’t want to elaborate on things at Monday’s news conference.
“I think you guys have heard enough from Jake and I about that,” Fischer said. “It’s just about trying to give players a voice.”
The bracelets were sent to UA players by the NCPA before the UCLA game, and several players chose to wear them for the matchup.
Oregon time delayed
The start time and television plans for the UA’s Nov. 23 game against Oregon won’t be announced until Sunday.
FOX has exercised its right to conduct a six-day selection for the game, rather than the normal 12-day selection period. Four of the six Pac-12 games on the 23rd have been held back for TV selection.
The other games held back were Arizona State at UCLA, Cal at Stanford and USC at Colorado.
In order of selection, the start time and TV plans for the four games will be: FOX, 5 p.m.; ESPN, 1:30 p.m.; Pac-12 Networks, 7:30 p.m.; Fox Sports 1, 1 p.m.
It seems likely the UA game would either be picked first or second, with the sixth-ranked Ducks in town.
Pac-12 Arizona will air a replay of the UA’s 16-3 upset of No. 1 Washington from 1992 tonight at midnight. Prior to the game at 11 p.m., the network will air an hour-long special looking back at the game.
It includes interviews with, among others, the Star’s Greg Hansen.