LARAMIE, Wyoming — Brian Hill was lined up deep in his own end zone, and he was scared.
With the football ominously situated at his team's 1-yard line during Wyoming's fall scrimmage on Saturday, the 6-foot-1, 204-pound freshman was asked to take the hand off, and make it out alive.
The play call was a power run up the gut, designed to allow Hill to squeeze through hundreds of pounds of tangled, dueling humanity and reach daylight. His goal, however, wasn't a 100-yard sprint from one thin stretch of brown and gold turf to the other.
Rather, he aimed to push the pile, fall forward and land somewhere across the white-striped goal line.
"I'm thinking, 'Just get like three yards and get out of this end zone,'" Hill said.
For a running back with Hill's speed, it might have been tempting to take the scenic route around the mountains, veer instead to the outside and hope no one is there to meet you.
But that wasn't what Hill was taught. Instead, running backs coach Mike Bath's words bounced around inside his helmet.
Don't bounce it outside. Don't bounce it outside. Don't bounce it outside.
Hill listened. He followed his blockers, as the play was designed, and soon he was through the gap with the acceleration of the Millenium Falcon hitting light speed.
Or, not quite.
"When you hit the open field at this altitude, it's a little different," said Hill, a native of Belleville, Illinois. "By the time you get to the open field you're a little tired already. But it's exciting. It's time to unhook the trailers and go."
Hill went for exactly 47 yards on the run. At the end of the day, he led all Wyoming running backs with 98 rushing yards and 14 yards per carry in the scrimmage.
"Brian Hill came in and had a good run -- a long run. He's got good speed, combined with his size," Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl said in the post-scrimmage press conference. "That was very encouraging."
On Monday, Bohl announced what the scrimmage statistics had already indicated -- that Hill will not redshirt this season, and instead will be given an opportunity to contribute as a true freshman.
If one looks further, however, they'll see that his rapid climb did not begin in Laramie.
Two years ago, Hill's recruiting prospects were dim and underwhelming. He was overshadowed at Belleville West High School by his cousin, linebacker Pierre Gee-Tucker, who left for North Dakota State prior to Hill's senior season.
But once Hill believed he could advance, he did.
"It was basically confidence," Hill said. "After my cousin left and went to NDSU, it was kind of my team. I knew I had to explode. That was the biggest difference. I don't think I got that much better physically. I just had more confidence to think I was going to do better."
As a result, Hill rushed for 778 yards on only 88 carries, averaging 8.8 yards per rush, in the 2013 season. He also added 332 receiving yards, and led the team with a prolific 23 touchdowns.
Defensively, the rangy safety finished the year with 60 tackles, three interceptions, two fumble recoveries and a sack.
His potential was on display in a 55-28 victory over rival O'Fallon, where all he did was return one of his two interceptions 97 yards for a touchdown, catch a 20-yard touchdown pass, rush for two scores and make eight tackles.
Unsurprisingly, Hill's recruiting picked up late in the process. Though Wyoming was his first offer, Northern Illinois, Georgia State, Eastern Michigan and Purdue would later follow.
But relationships, not locations or conference affiliations, ended up making all the difference.
Gee-Tucker had been recruited by and played under Bohl and his staff, and had only positive things to say. Hill had also been recruited by North Dakota State before Bohl eventually made the jump to Laramie.
While the relationships were crucial, so was the opportunity to play early. But that didn't mean it would be easy.
"In high school, I had like 20 plays to remember," Hill said. "With double repping and the altitude, you're tired. All you want to do is survive. You just don't want to die right now. You just have to keep thinking about what you have to do."
Though he calls this fall camp the hardest thing he has ever done, Hill has still managed to impress his teammates and coaches. At a stout 6-1, he possesses the lower body strength to churn through casual arm tackles.
And with a sprinter's mentality, he also has the speed to leave them in his wake.
"He's a hoss. He'll break tackles, man," junior running back Shaun Wick said. "Once he gets into the open field, anyone who grabs at his legs, they don't have a chance."
Though he has already conquered the redshirt, exactly how much Hill will play behind Wick and sophomore D.J. May is still yet to be determined.
But judging by his 47-yard jaunt -- the one he predicted would last no more than three yards, tops -- Hill is no stranger to exceeding expectations.
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com