STATE COLLEGE – Laid back and unassuming, Jordan Hill could easily blend in with the thousands of other students on the Penn State campus on a normal class day.
Make no mistake, the senior stands out on the football field. Not even a sore left knee can slow the defensive tackle known for his relentless motor.
Catch him most any other time, and he’s more apt to blend in with the crowd. He flashed a friendly smile after taking a well-earned break on the couch of the football team’s lounge before a recent practice this week.
“I don’t think about it as me not wanting to stop,” Hill said. “But I don’t want to lose. For me to win, I have to play the best I can each and every play.”
A left knee injury two weeks ago during the 34-9 win at Purdue left Penn State fans wondering how long one of the team’s respected senior leaders would be out of the lineup – if he returned at all. Hill was carted off the field.
A week later, he was back.
Entering this Saturday’s game against Indiana, Hill is fourth on the team with 50 tackles, including five for losses and 2½ sacks. He has an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
The Hoosiers defense might be struggling after losing 62-14 last week to Wisconsin, but it has a tough lineman of its own in senior Adam Replogle, who leads conference defensive tackles with 62 stops.
“He’s a quality player, great off the field,” Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said of Replogle. “He’s helped set a standard of how we want to improve.”
Hill, too, is a standard-bearer for Penn State.
Perhaps more important to coach Bill O’Brien’s defense is that Hill consistently draws double teams that help free up other linemen and occupy potential blockers. It also helps the veteran linebacking crew of Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges and Glenn Carson to make big plays – which made Hill’s status for last week’s Nebraska game a big question mark.
Hill admitted he was in nagging pain during pregame warm-ups.
“I was hurting,” Hill said. “I looked bad moving around.”
He didn’t start in the 32-23 loss, but Hill did play in the first half. Then his replacement, James Terry, also went down a leg injury and didn’t return. Hill knew what he had to do in the second half.
“When James went down I said, ‘All right, I’ve got to go,” he said this week, wearing sweats while relaxing in a chair with legs outstretched. There appeared to be no brace on the left knee.
Hill also wasn’t wearing a brace during a 25-minute session of practice open to media Wednesday, when he looked limber taking part in stretches but was held out of drills.
Hill said he hasn’t been limited this week. Even if he’s hurting, he might not be the kind of player who divulges just how much pain he’s in.
“When the younger guys are looking around, I can’t be one of the guys panicking at all, no matter the situation,” Hill said. “Even if I don’t know what’s going to happen, I still have to be calm.”
It was no surprise to the family when Hill stuck with Penn State in July after the NCAA levied its strict sanctions on the program for the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
The day fellow seniors Michael Zordich and Mauti gave an impassioned statement with about two dozen other players that they were staying at Penn State, Hill was on the golf course – where he was working as an intern. He was getting breakfast at a concession stand when he looked up at a TV to find Zordich and Mauti speaking.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” Hill said with a chuckle.
Hill said he would have been there, too, if he didn’t have the internship.
“When I had my (preseason) meeting with Coach O’Brien,” he said, “I told him the only way I’d leave this program is if there wasn’t going to be any more football.”
That wasn’t the case, of course, and Penn State has had a better-than-expected season in part because of Hill and the talented defense.
“I’m playing next to one of the toughest, fastest and best defensive tackles I’ve ever seen play,” said redshirt freshman Deion Barnes, who has emerged at defensive end this season. “Playing through injury and adversity, he’s probably one of the best players I’ve ever played next to.”