Brian Hill’s mind has been on the NFL for a while now.
But it was basketball on the mind of Wyoming’s all-time leading rusher when he was selected by the Atlanta Falcons in the fifth round of the NFL Draft on Saturday.
“I wasn’t even paying attention to the TV Saturday,” Hill said. “I was just playing (NBA) 2K until my phone rang.”
Hill had spent Friday, when rounds two and three of the draft were held, at the house of his former high school coach, Cameron Pettus.
Saturday, as his name began to fall, he decided to take his mind off the draft.
Then his phone rang.
“I was dumbfounded when I got the phone call,” said Hill, who left for the NFL with a year of college eligibility remaining. “I didn’t even know who I was talking about until he told me it was (Falcons head coach) Dan Quinn. I was probably mad, had an attitude since I slid so far, and when I realized it was Atlanta, my whole demeanor changed.”
While Hill himself thought he had a shot of being drafted on Friday, the fifth round wasn’t all that far below many draft projections. But it was the fact that 15 running backs were selected ahead of Hill that frustrated the nation’s third-leading rusher in 2016.
“It’s just seeing the running backs go ahead of me,” Hill said. “Seeing who the NFL thought was better than me.”
The chip on Hill’s shoulder might have been caused by a crack in his wrist. Hill fractured his wrist in Wyoming’s regular-season finale against New Mexico, he said Monday. He had to have a medical recheck in Indianapolis, the site of the NFL Combine, and the injury might have led to teams choosing other backs ahead of him.
Hill said the wrist — he declined to say which one it is — is in the same shape now.
“Just a fracture, a crack in the bone,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ll need surgery yet or not. I’m going to go and see what my team doctors say.”
Despite the injury, Hill ran for 93 yards in each of his final two collegiate games and scored a touchdown in the Poinsettia Bowl.
“Even playing with the fractured wrist the last two games I was able to hold onto the ball,” Hill said. “So I’m pretty sure that’s why the Falcons didn’t have a problem with it.”
When Hill got the phone call, he was left speechless. His mother, Tamara Lewis, couldn’t stop screaming.
“We had opposite reactions,” said Hill, the first Cowboy running back drafted since 1995.
Lewis famously gave Hill $5 for each touchdown and sack he recorded when he was younger. Now, once contract negotiations are done with, Hill will be able to pay her back and more. He has a first purchase for Lewis in mind.
“It’s a surprise,” he said. “She doesn’t even know.”
If Lewis had extended her deal with Hill, she would have owed him $175, as he set a program record with 35 career rushing touchdowns. His 22 as a junior set a Wyoming record for rushing and total touchdowns in a single season.
He also broke his own single-season Wyoming rushing record that year with 1,860 yards and set the program’s all-time rushing record, finishing with 4,287. No Wyoming player had cleared the 3,000-yard mark before Hill.
Hill will have his work cut out for him in Atlanta. The Falcons, with whom he had a private workout in Laramie, already have a stacked backfield with Devonta Freeman (1,079 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in 2016) and Tevin Coleman (520 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns) — though their contracts end after the 2017 and ‘18 seasons, respectively.
“Devonta is a great running back, and so is Tevin Coleman,” Hill said. “They both have traits that I see and try to emulate in my game. ... I’ve never shied away from competition, and I believe in my own abilities. So there’s no doubt in my mind that I’m going to make the roster.”
Because of their depth at running back, Hill was surprised the Falcons would draft another one. Still, there are worse situations for a rookie to join than the defending NFC champions.
“I couldn’t be more excited,” said Hill, who will wear No. 38 for Atlanta. “There’s so much talent on this team. I know that I’m going into a good situation, a winning team. I’ve just got to go in, perform in camp and make the team.”