We proved, at least in this particular year, we belonged up there with the big guys. —Jay Hill
OGDEN — Jay Hill is on a roll in his personal, professional and imaginary lives. They were intertwined on National Letter of Intent day, this month, which is a good thing.
The Weber State football coach isn’t one to boast, but he isn’t one to lie, either. He is quick to deliver the standard disclaimer about his 2018 recruiting class, saying, “Give me a couple of years and I’ll tell you exactly how good this class was.”
But in the same breath he says the coaching staff is “super excited about this class and what potential is there, and what they can become.”
In a single year, Hill received two contract extensions, the second taking him through the 2023 season in Ogden.
“It’s good,” Hill said on Wednesday. “We love it here. I was looking for security for me and other coaches, and just to have the ability to build the way we have. We love it here and they want us here, and we’re excited for what we can continue to become.”
An FCS national power, of course.
Imagination can take you a long way.
The Wildcats had the most wins in school history (11) and went the farthest a Weber team has ever gone in the playoffs, reaching the quarterfinals in December.
“We proved, at least in this particular year, we belonged up there with the big guys,” Hill said.
In January 2017, Hill got a contract extension with a raise; in December he got another. His base salary of $275,000 is reportedly the highest in the Big Sky Conference.
Already he’s giving the school its money’s worth. This week, two players who had verbally committed to Pac-12 schools instead chose Weber: wide receivers Devon Cooley, who originally committed to UCLA, and AJ Allen, ticketed for Colorado.
In the first year that recruits were allowed to ink letters of intent in December, Weber flourished. Players that normally would have kept smaller schools waiting can now see FBS schools’ intentions sooner. If interest is iffy, or circumstances change, they can begin investigating their FCS options.
“Cooley obviously committed to UCLA and obviously has the ability to be something very special,” Hill said. “If he comes in focused, and if he’s in shape, he could probably help us right away. AJ Allen, same thing.”
But the biggest boost for Hill has nothing to do with recruiting. His wife Sara has responded well to treatments for Hodgkin’s lymphoma and hasn’t had to return since October. That came on the heels of a brutal run of medical requirements earlier last year. From March until August, she endured a bone marrow transplant and what Hill labels “crazy radiation.”
“She handled it like a champ,” Hill said.
Her husband did, too. He turned much of the routine duties over to his assistant coaches so he could drive his wife to treatments every few days. By fall, both she and the Wildcats were on the upswing. Weber won the Big Sky and advanced to the semifinals of the FCS playoffs, losing on the final play to FCS runner-up James Madison.
NLI day is a good way to gauge what a team’s recent success has wrought. Whether it was the playoffs or the early signing rules that helped Hill have a standout recruiting year is up to conjecture.
“I think both helped,” Hill said.
He points out that in early December, while other teams were flocking to recruits’ homes to pitch their products, Weber was engrossed in preparing for the next playoff game.
“Even my assistant coaches were worried about not being in the homes,” Hill said. “I said, ‘Guys, just keep winning. That’s the best thing we can do.’ It played out that way, too, because we did get into homes and people knew who we were.”
There’s no better icebreaker than a bossy win-loss record.
Hill excused himself on Wednesday after meeting with the media, saying he had to greet the boosters, who were waiting one floor up. The sales pitch for next season is already on. A new locker room and office complex, to be attached to the north end of Stewart Stadium, is due for completion in 2019.
In just a year’s time, Hill has made major headway on football success and helping his wife back to health. Meanwhile, Weber State has successfully signed its biggest recruit of all: Hill.
“We have one big step, in order to take it forward and become one of those elite two or three teams in the country,” Hill said. “And I think we can do that.”
Nobody’s laughing. Thinking big is what got him here in the first place.