There are two things noticeably different about Austin Hill this spring.
One is a surgery scar; the other is a fashion statement.
The receiver, who tore his left ACL last spring, is still protecting the knee with a large brace even though he’s 100 percent healthy.
“It’s staying for now,” Hill said of the brace. “I plan on working out of it through agility drills and building my speed up through the summer. It definitely stays on during the spring, though.”
The other change isn’t as subtle.
Hill, a senior-to-be from Corona, Calif., hasn’t gotten a haircut in a close to a year. He’s got a full-on afro and has no plans on trimming it anytime soon.
Somehow, he managed to get a helmet over it for the first practice of the spring on Monday.
“It gets pushed down by the helmet,” Hill said smiling after practice. “That’s why it looks so crazy.”
Hill may have a different look and more protection, but the Wildcats are hoping to have the same guy back this fall.
He had one of the best seasons by a receiver in Arizona history in 2012, catching 81 passes for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns.
After missing the 2013 season, Hill is poised to headline a deep group of receivers. The UA will have Hill, Notre Dame transfer DaVonte Neal, Texas transfer Cayleb Jones and returnees Nate Phillips, Samajie Grant, David Richards, Garic Wharton and Trey Griffey, among others, available to catch passes.
UA coach Rich Rodriguez is impressed so far with Hill’s health.
“I like the way Austin looks and the way he’s running around. There’s no hesitation whatsoever, which is a good thing,” he said.
The Star chatted with Hill about his recovery, the receivers group and his expectations for the season:
On being fully healthy and back with the team in practice: “It feels awesome to be back out here with everyone. I know I kinda finished up the season last year and worked out with the team. But officially being back and going through everything, it feels pretty good. My main goal is to stay healthy and get through spring ball with no mishaps.”
On if he feels healthier than he did at the end of last season, when he rejoined practice in a limited capacity: “Definitely. I’m able to move around a lot more. I was still a little uncertain during certain cutting drills. Now I’m full go. All I’ve been trying to do is focus on staying confident in my knee.”
On getting stronger while he sat out last season: “It was good for me to live in the weight room. That’s where I was with my strength coach. I was in there every day, even after practice. I felt a lot stronger out here today. Maybe not speed, leg wise, but upper body wise, I was feeling really good on blocks, on everything else. It was pretty good.”
On the receivers’ excitement for the 2014 season: “I think there’s a lot of excitement, but we’re keeping it inside right now. You don’t want to get too cocky or big-headed too soon. It’s really early. It’s the first day of spring ball. We still have camp to go through. You never know who’s going to be the starting three or four receivers. Everyone is keeping it contained, because we all know we have to work really hard to get on the field because there’s a lot of competition in the receivers room.
“A lot of guys are looking over their shoulders. A lot of young guys were able to play last year. Now there are a lot of older guys like me and Garic Wharton coming and stepping up. There’s a lot of guys looking over their shoulders, seeing who’s going to do this, who’s going to do that.”
On if he had any nerves before spring drills started: “No, not at all. It’s really bad to be anxious. I’ve been playing this game my entire life. I’m more just excited. I’m just trying to stay healthy on it and not do too much, but at the same time get better. That’s what I tried to come out and do (Monday).”
• Defensive end Kyle Kelley left the UA before the team’s first practice Monday. The former three-star defensive end from Irvine, Calif., redshirted in 2012 and served as a backup last season. He played in 12 games and had two tackles.
Kelley was highly regarded coming out of Woodbridge High School and was ranked as the 42nd-best defensive end
in the country by the
Scout.com recruiting service. He signed with Arizona over offers from Arizona State, Colorado, Florida, UCLA, Washington and others. He committed to former coach Mike Stoops, but remained on board when Rodriguez took over.
Kelley was projected to be a backup in 2014.
Contact reporter Daniel Berk at email@example.com or 573-4330. On Twitter @DSBerk