SIU coach: Season of change offers opportunities for growth
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College football programs thrive on structure.
“These kids are so used to that we’re able to give them 12-month calendars,” Southern Illinois head coach Nick Hill said Tuesday in a media conference call. “Here’s your days off. Here’s when you get to go home for a break.”
But amid the COVID-19 pandemic and rampant uncertainty in college athletics, schedules are now based on many factors out of athletes’ and coaches’ control.
One thing Hill said that is in his – and his players’ – control is how the Salukis react to the loss of their fall season and the lingering worries about what a spring Missouri Valley Football Conference schedule will look like.
“You’ve got to find the positives in everything or you sit around and keep complaining,” Hill said. “All of this stuff is out of our hands. Change is inevitable and growth is optional. Right now, we have to choose that we’re going to grow and get better. I know that’s where my mindset is. I believe there are going to be opportunities in this.”
For Hill and many of his coaching colleagues, having a fall away from the field is extraordinarily unique. It’s a challenge he readily accepts.
“I bet there’s a lot of coaches around the country that are looking forward to doing something in the fall that they’ve never been able to do,” he said. “There’s got to be life outside of football. We’re all getting hit with that.”
For Hill, that reality has turned his focus to the outdoors.
“I’m a big deer hunter, but I’ve found myself talking about deer hunting way more than I ever do it,” he said. “I’m looking forward to sitting in a deer stand a lot more than I ever have in the fall.”
He also has found a new toy to clear heavy brush around his home.
“I went out and bought a new Kubota tractor,” he said. “I’ve been bush hogging everything I can find, making trails.”
While he takes on two new fall hobbies, Hill said he expects the same of his players.
“These kids get more time to become a better version of themselves,” he said. “Not just on the football field. If you’re not able to adjust and adapt and have a good attitude while you’re doing that, it’s hard to operate in life. … As a coach, I’m looking forward to this fall – slowing down, teaching, coaching.”
One thing Hill said he won’t accept is any of the nearly 130 players, coaches and support staff around the SIU program frequently expressing negative thoughts.
“Everybody’s world and what we’re used to has been flipped upside down,” he said. “We can’t sit here and be doom and gloom. I’m not buying in on the doom and gloom. If I hear a conversation start going down into complaining or, ‘Can you believe this?’, I’m done with that.”
Hill said he understands that people in the program are going through a variety of emotions, and he wants to acknowledge those emotions and help everyone move forward.
“Perspective is a great word in life, and we all need to have great perspective during this time,” he said.
Saluki side notes
Hill said senior safety Qua Brown, who entered the transfer portal this week, will graduate this fall from SIU. He added that after conversations with every Saluki player, no others expressed an interest in transferring. “Everybody is on board with pursuing the spring season,” he said. … Though NFL scouts are not allowed in team facilities right now and many are not traveling to campuses in their assigned regions, Hill said SIU will set up Zoom calls with pro prospects and NFL personnel. … SIU and others who are not playing games this fall are awaiting guidance from the NCAA on the number of hours players can spend on football during this unique time. In the off-season, he said eight hours a week of conditioning and workouts are allowed. During the season, coaches and players can spend 20 hours a week together on team activities. “We’re kind of in a holding pattern,” he said. “It could be a blended version at 12 hours.” … Of nearly 400 COVID-19 tests given to players, Hill said SIU has had one positive. “We need to continue to err on the side of caution and safety.”