Will Hill says that he won’t change a single thing in his playing style…. between the whistles.
After the whistle? Well, he says he’s learned from what he describes as an uncharacteristic mistake.
The first-year Hamilton Tiger-Cat, who will start at SAM linebacker when the local heroes play at home Thursday night against the Edmonton Eskimos, returned to practice Monday from a one-game suspension for grabbing an official by the jersey during a loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Regina 10 days ago. He was also fined for punching a Rider.
Head coach Kent Austin said last week that Hill had indeed made a grave error, but had “owned” it, without excuses, and returns with a clean slate.
“I learned a lesson from this; how to react on the field and off the field too,” Hill told The Spectator Monday. “Just to think about the team, think about the players, and not just about myself.
“I’m not going to change the way I play. I told the commissioner, I told the coach, I told everybody. I even apologized to my teammates for my actions on the field and they said they understand. I told them I don’t need you to understand I need you to overstand, because that’s not me, and that’s not the way I carry myself on the field. I do carry myself with aggression, but not after the whistle and not with the refs.”
In the first two games of the season Hill, who was consistently around the ball, had the best cumulative stats of any Ticat. He made 10 defensive tackles, recorded a sack and three quarterback pressures and, against Toronto, blocked two field goals. He was clearly missed — especially in the second half — during Saturday’s home-opener loss to the B.C. Lions which sentenced the Ticats to an Oh-Oh-and-three start.
Hill’s style is the kind which has always been attractive to a wide vein of Ticat fans, dating back to the blue collar teams of the 1950s. Hard, angry, hitters who caught your attention, and that of the opposition. Indeed, Hill says that part of his modus operandi is to have the receivers he’s covering be aware of him 60 minutes per game.
“I don’t really say too much off the field, but I have a lot of pent-up anger and aggression,” says the soft-spoken 27-year-old from West Orange, NJ. “This sport is the only sport in which you can physically, and legally, mess someone up.
“ I use that to my advantage. So it may feel like ‘he’s wild and uncontrollable’ but, other than that last incident, I’m usually controlled in my temperament. I play aggressively between the whistles and after that, even if somebody gets me, I’m just going to come back the next play.”
Hill says he was angry because he’d been ‘undercut’ (hit in his legs, left vulnerable while jumping) on the Riders’ field goal attempts. And prior to grabbing the official, the official had grasped him. But he’s not using either as an excuse for his reaction which he, like Austin, described as unacceptable.
“I see us as warriors,” he says. “If you look at the CFL logo or the NFL logo it’s a shield. That’s a gladiator’s shield, and they go out there and fight. In that moment, I saw red. I knew it wasn’t the right thing to do to touch a ref, and I told coach that, that I messed up.”
One positive of not being allowed to practice last week was that when his five-month old son – Will Hill IV, who’s with him in Hamilton — suffered an allergic food reaction, he was able to be there for him. That was the family matter the team referred to when he wasn’t around the stadium on the first day of practice last week.
When he arrived at Tim Hortons Field the following day he was devastated to find out that CFL policy prevented him from even attending team meetings.
“That was the hardest part,” he said. “It was a little dagger to me because I couldn’t even be there mentally, and pick my teammates’ brains, or have mental practice to stay up on my game.
“I’m just ready to get back. I know we had our opening home game here a couple of days ago, it didn’t go the way we wanted, but this is my opening home game.
“And I will play like it.”
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