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LARAMIE (AP) — It was impossible to distinguish between coach and player.
Twenty minutes after Wyoming’s football practice concluded, the team’s defensive backs remained on the practice field near the far goal line. One by one, they took turns guarding makeshift receiver Renaldo Hill as he broke into the end zone, juking and slashing and calling for the football.
Against redshirt freshman Cortland Fort, Hill took a few stutter steps and then broke sharply inside on a slant route, catching the ball from quarterback Tommy Thornton as he zipped past the goal line. As Fort stood by, dejected, Hill’s arms flung up in the air and he began to high step around the end zone, celebrating as if this score had just clinched a Super Bowl.
The Cowboys’ corners know that this reaction is coming if they let their coach score.
“We like that about him,” junior cornerback Blair Burns said. “If he catches a ball he’s going to talk trash to you and all that type of stuff. He still has his little moves that he learned from the NFL receivers, that he puts on us.”
Hill, who retired from the NFL in 2010 after a 10-year career as both a corner and a safety, clearly hasn’t lost his energy. As the players warm up at the beginning of a morning practice, jogging and skipping from one side of the field to the other, their 34-year-old coach joins them, another face in the crowd.
His fellow coaches stand along the sidelines, yelling instructions with whistles in mouths and hands on hips. Not Hill. He stretches out with the rest of the team, as if he’s still playing at Michigan State in 1999.
“He brings so much energy and that rubs off on us,” Fort tells the Casper Star-Tribune. “It affects the whole defense.”
Hill’s experience — the Big Ten games on harsh winter Saturdays, the one-on-one battles against the NFL’s top wideouts — commands immediate respect from his players. Ultimately, the NFL is the faraway dream for each defensive back.
And in Laramie, they have access to a guy who has been there and lived it. That experience is a resource that not every Mountain West program can duplicate. Wyoming defensive coordinator Chris Tormey, for one, certainly appreciates it.
“Coach Hill just brings so much to the table in so many different ways, so many different dimensions,” Tormey said. “He’s a pleasure to be around, he has tremendous expertise and he’s a great person.”
And so, Wyoming’s second-year coach can be found on the field in every practice, challenging his corners to be better — to shut him down.
To say that he’s a hands-on coach would be a massive understatement, like saying that the Mountain West has a few decent quarterbacks.
“He just got done a couple years ago playing in the league so he still kind of has his athletic ability,” Burns said.
“He always pushes us, always runs with us, always gets out there and does the drills with us.”
The corners’ habit of putting in extra work after practice isn’t a fluke or an accident. It’s a product of observation, of Hill noting how the world’s premier players came to earn their place.
“I’m just encouraging the guys to want to get better.
If you’ve been to a Broncos camp, the last guy on the field is Peyton Manning,” Hill said. “He’s the first one on, last one off.”
That’s what Hill wants for his defensive backs. If they under perform this season, it won’t be because of a lack of effort. And with each extra rep the cornerbacks take, they know that their coach will be right there along with them; pushing them, teaching them, always trying to score.
And while he looks like one of the players from a distance, the salt-and-pepper that sprinkles his facial stubble reveals the truth.
“It’s fun. It keeps me active, and they look forward to the chance to shut me down,” Hill said. “I always got a chip on my shoulder, whether I’m a coach or a player, so I’m not going to let it happen.”