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Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News
BYU defensive back Ben Criddle (21) slaps the ball away from TCU's Aaron Brown in the Cougars' victory over the Horned Frogs.

Forgive BYU secondary coach Jaime Hill if he heads home to San Diego this weekend with a giant smile on his face. The cloak of humility that shrouds his persona so very well he lets slip, just for a tiny moment.

Let Hill bask in it, just for a few days. He's earned it.

After all, this season Hill's seen three scholarship safeties go down to season-ending injuries — two of them (Dustin Gabriel and David Tafuna) before the first game. Yet, the Cougars are MWC champs again, have won 15 league games in a row and enter Saturday's game with San Diego State ranked No. 19 in the BCS.

And the clincher?


Gulp — what?

Hill is the only Division I coach starting four walk-ons, says his boss, head coach Bronco Mendenhall.

Starter junior college walk-on Ben Criddle was cut once and walk-on receiver Kyle Buchannan was cut twice. Safeties? Kellen Fowler came on an academic scholarship, and Corby Hodgkiss walked on and plays with a serious case of diabetes.

"How can I put this?" said Hill, BYU's only African-American coach on staff. "We're the only defense in Division I with a secondary of all Caucasian walk-ons. It is what it is, but none of it matters. Guys go down and another steps up, committed and ready to play."

Hill's friends in the business from around the country are always bringing it up. It's become quite the item.

Mendenhall credits Fowler and Hodgkiss for stepping in when Gabriel and Quinn Gooch got hurt. "It's a tribute to those young men and their preparation."

But he also praised Hill.

"I'm not sure there is another program in the country that has that same scenario and that nobody's noticing them as far as balls going over their head and reduced play," said Mendenhall.

Only Tulsa, the nation's No. 1 offense, torched Hill's defenders. BYU ranks No. 9 nationally in total defense.

And playing his fourth safety in three months?

"We've just moved on and still managed the points, still managed the yardage and continued winning.

It has a lot to do with the kind of young men that come to BYU, but also it has to do with the job coach Hill is doing in an area to get the most out of them in terms of scheme and technique."


Hill refuses to take any credit. His humble side takes over.

"It's a testament to them. It's all them. I don't play, sorry. It's all about the players. It doesn't matter what I know, it's all about what I convey to them and what they do."

Hill does admit he's returning to his hometown of San Diego having fun. "I enjoy it. I'm having a blast. It's a challenge, I knew that coming in, but it has come to fruition (winning a conference title), and the guys are playing well, and I'm looking forward to it. What this means is all the hard work these guys put in during the summer and in the classroom has panned out, and their role and belief in the system has taken to their play."

Hill said it all boils down to making plays. And his walk-ons are simply what they are. "Nobody cares they are walk-ons. Nobody cares about their situation (injuries) or their skin color. All they care about is how many stops they make."

Against rival Utah last Saturday, perhaps the league's hottest offense, Hill used the word "awesome" to describe the play of BYU's four walk-on secondary. Utah's longest pass play went 17 yards.

"It was the highest they graded out since I've been here," Hill said. "We only had one mess-up , one play, just one play, and that's when a guy didn't know what the coverage was, and they caught a little corner route. Other than that, they never caught the ball (deep) on us. Nothing.

Oops, Hill let a sliver of pride slip over his shield of humility.

Oh, well, the guy's going back home to the place where BYU can end the regular season with an undefeated MWC record for the second year in a row.

Somehow, some way, a little bow from the waist, tip of the hat, or slap on the back can be tolerated for Hill and his unheralded band of backside defenders.

They're in a class of their own.

E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com