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Head-butting Hill key to UM's run success

Pat Hill Jr. is only 2 1/2 years old. But he's already following in his daddy's footsteps.

When Hill Jr. is around his father and his University of Miami teammates, he'll get down in a football stance and charge at the adults around him head first.

"It's hilarious," Hill Sr. said of his son Tuesday. "He gives a head butt to everybody."

Patrick Hill Like father, like son. Hill, a fifth-year senior from Torrance, Calif. and starting fullback, has made head-butting and opening holes his specialty at UM. Last week, he took that a step further when he cracked his helmet during a head-on collision with a defensive player from Georgia Tech.

"All I know it was a run play -- I don't remember the exact play," Hill said. "I tend to hit with my head first and then bring the rest of my body and hands. I'm pretty sure it was helmet to helmet. The equipment guy came to me and I showed it to him. I said `I need to get a helmet Tuesday.' He said `No, you have to get one now.' He said I could keep it as a souvenir, which is pretty neat."

Saturday was the first time Hill shattered a helmet, but not the first time he's kept UM's equipment manager busy. Hill said he's shattered his face-mask a few times in the past to try and blow open a hole for the guys behind him.

"I take a lot of pride in it," Hill said of blocking. "You see guys getting the glory, kind of want the glory sometimes. But I'm a team guy. I know what my role is.."

If all you did were look at his statistics, Hill's career at the UM might be misjudged as a failure. In three seasons, he's carried the ball once for 5 yards -- that was last week at Georgia Tech. He also has seven career catches for 41 yards.

But ask UM coach Randy Shannon how much his starting fullback means to his team and he offers this: "Go look up the stats from last year -- go look at the first couple games when Pat Hill was in and the next couple games when he was out, you'll see a big drop off in rushing. If you look at where we are in rushing, it's because of Pat Hill."

At 5-9, 255 pounds, Hill might not be considered an imposing threat to bigger opposing linebackers. But ask the guys who run behind him about the job he does and they rave. "Pat does a great job. He gets on backers, gets them out the way," said sophomore running back Mike James, who played some fullback when Hill was out last season. "Me experiencing it last year, I can't tell you how great his job is. It's an unglorious job but it's very much needed."

The Hurricanes have become one of the best rushing teams in the country over the past five weeks. Since their blowout loss to the Seminoles on Oct. 9, UM has run at a clip of 224 yards per game.

"In this game, if you establish the run nine times out of 10 you're going to win the game," Hill said. "In the three losses we had, we didn't run the ball well. With running the ball well comes winning."

A year ago with Hill out of the lineup, the Hurricanes finished 70th in the country in rushing with 138 yards a game. This season with a healthy Hill the Canes are averaging 185.8 yards a game -- good for 32nd best nationally.

Hill was only healthy for three of UM's games last season before he slipped an sustained a high ankle sprain on a kickoff return in the 31-7 loss to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Had he remained healthy, however, he wouldn't be with the Canes this season.

"I always look at that as a blessing in disguise," Hill said. "I'm a very religious person. I think God does everything for a reason. Everything happens for a reason. That was just a sign for me to come back and perfect aspects of my game I want to perfect."

Nothing would make him happier this week than to cap his return to UM with a win over the Hokies.

"I expect them to play hard," Hill said. "Despite whatever situations happen, I expect them to keep coming, play hard, play fast and physical. It's going to be a 60 minute fight. They've been down and come back. They're a hot team right now, the hottest team in the ACC, have won eight straight."


> Quarterback Jacory Harris participated in Tuesday’s practice wearing full pads, a helmet and a green, non-contact jersey. He threw passes in individual drills and also took snaps with the second team during team drills. But odds are he won't play this week. Shannon has remained adamant about Harris getting healthy.

“I know you guys want to keep worrying about who’s going to be the starter? And I know fans want to know who’s going to be the guy," Shannon said. "But let the guy get healthy right. Let him go through the process of it instead of trying to force him back into something that can hurt him. He’s a kid.”

> Tight end Asante Cleveland, who sustained a concussion against Maryland and sat out against Georgia Tech, also practiced in a non-contact jersey Tuesday. Shannon described Cleveland’s recovery as “the same situation” as Harris. “It’s going to be no different.”

> Shannon said Hokies quarterback Tyrod Taylor is playing the best out of anybody in the ACC on offense. He might not be wrong. Taylor has completed 61.2 percent of his passes this season for 1,988 yards, 18 TDs and only 4 INTs. He's also run He's run for 581 yards and 3 TDs.

"He's still a runner," Shannon said. "But he's a thrower/runner. He gets out of the pocket to throw, gets you to come up, then he throws the ball. Last year he got out of the pocket, dumped to the fullback 10 yards down the field and it's a 20 yard completion. We have to make sure we do our job in pass rush lanes, keeping guys in front of him. That'll be key."