With four games remaining in its 2018 season, the 3-5 Colorado State football team still holds a chance to qualify for a bowl game. And the Rams are turning to a quarterback who hasn’t started a game in two years to get them there.
Redshirt sophomore Collin Hill will open the game under center against Wyoming on Friday night, his first start since 2016, when he was a true freshman. K.J. Carta-Samuels, a graduate transfer from Washington, has started each of CSU’s eight games this year, and he’s largely played well (2,172 yards, 61.7 completion percentage, 18 touchdowns, eight interceptions).
But, “we need a spark as a football team,” head coach Mike Bobo said at his weekly press conference. “I’ve been saying all along [Hill has] been practicing well, and I felt like I would do something if I felt it would give us a better chance to win.”
The fact that Hill is playing at all this season is remarkable. He earned the QB1 job in ’16, starting four of the first five games as a true freshman, showing much promise — he completed 75-of-129 passes (58.1 percent) for 1,096 yards and eight touchdowns with two interceptions in those games. At the time, he was the only true freshman in the country ranked in the top five in passer efficiency rating (fifth), passing yards per game (fifth), and passing yards per completion (second). His 315 passing yards in his collegiate debut were the most by a CSU QB making his first career start.
Collin Hill became CSU’s 1st freshman QB to pass for 300 yards in his 1st start. He also accounted for 5 TDs. pic.twitter.com/LYqjKb6BLU
— Colorado State Football (@CSUFootball) September 18, 2016
But in that fifth game against Utah State, Hill tore is left ACL. That put him out for the remainder of the season, and he took a redshirt in 2017 to continue his recovery. He was projected to be the team’s starter in 2018.
However, a week before spring practices ramped up, he re-tore that left ACL in mid-March while playing a pickup basketball game.
“Again, I was just crushed,” Hill told Sports Spectrum after a recent practice.
But through diligent rehab and a strong faith in Christ, Hill got cleared to play after just five months and saw his first game action this year against Colorado on Sept. 1. He’s continued to play sparingly, but it wasn’t until last week during a 56-28 loss to Boise State that Hill convinced Bobo to give him another shot as the starter. Hill connected on 12-of-14 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown.
“I was never going to be bitter if I never got another start, another opportunity, but it does feel good to get another chance,” Hill told the media this week.
Hill’s faith has been the biggest thing to get him through these trials. He says he turned to the book of Psalms frequently, and spoke often with some of his Christian mentors: his father, Trey; Reza Zadeh, the Denver Broncos’ chaplain who also works with Athletes in Action at CSU; Johnny Square, the CSU team chaplain; and Shane Williamson, a family friend and the president of Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
“The biggest thing for me was not finding my identity in Collin Hill the football player, but finding my identity as a child of God and my relationship with Jesus,” Hill told us. “For me that was the biggest part, because my whole life it had been, ‘Oh yeah, I’m a football guy,’ and then all of a sudden — bang — the Lord takes it away from you like that.
“The first [injury] was a wake-up call, and I was like, ‘OK, got it.’ The second time it was like, ‘Man.’ I really sat down and was like, ‘This cannot be it for me’ … At the end of the day the only thing that matters is that relationship with Jesus.”
Raised in Moore, S.C., Hill said he “grew up in church, accepted Jesus when I was 7 years old and then was baptized at 8.” He really began to make his faith his own at Dorman High School in nearby Roebuck, S.C., and especially since moving to Colorado, where “there was no one to take me to church anymore.”
In addition to meeting with Zadeh and Square regularly, and getting plugged into a local Fort Collins church, Hill led a Bible study for some of teammates this past offseason, and is a regular at the CSU team Bible study on Thursdays. And his personal prayer time helped him grind through months of rehab.
“Honestly, for a little bit I was really frustrated with God,” Hill said. “I was like, ‘What the heck, Man?’ I’m doing the right things and then that happened. But then looking back through a lot of prayer about it, I felt guilty about feeling frustrated with the Creator. I’m like, ‘Who am I to be frustrated with Him?'”
Hill came to trust that God had a plan for him, a good plan. Now, he sees his injuries as a strong part of his testimony.
“Especially for people looking on the outside in, because if everything’s going well, it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, well of course this guy’s giving glory to God. I would too if everything’s going well.’ To be completely honest, it hasn’t gone great, and I think that’s when everybody really starts paying attention. They’re like, ‘Oh OK, this guy’s for real about it.’ I think that’s where I’ve been able to reach out to other guys more,” Hill said.
Prior to the 2018 season, Hill was selected by his teammates to be one of the captains. Even though they knew he might not play much, they saw how hard he worked to rejoin the team:
Now he has a shot to lead the Rams to their sixth consecutive bowl game, and then two more seasons to make up for lost time on the field. Hill wouldn’t wish his injuries on anyone, but he now sees they — and his reliance on the Lord — have made him stronger.
“It was just a mixture of the Christian mentors I have and prayer and getting in the Word that definitely helped me through, because without it I’d be really, really lost,” Hill said. “If football was it for me, I definitely would be really, really struggling.”
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