Will Hill, the No. 2-rated high school football player in the ESPN 150, is off the board. Hill, a multi-talented athlete from St. Peter's Prep in Jersey City, N.J., told ESPNU today he'll sign with the reigning national champion Florida.
Hill's decision ends months of speculation and solidifies the Gators in recruiting circles. He picked the Gators over Florida State, Southern California and Rutgers.
"The decision was really a big deal; I now want to focus on (winning) a championship at my school," said Hill from the ESPN Zone in New York. "When the Florida came to (New) Jersey I felt their energy."
"Florida met the criteria we set before the recruiting process," St. Peter's coach Rich Hansen said. "He's very comfortable with the situation presented."
Hill's family and Hansen listed education, the ability to play for a national championship and comfort level with the coaching staff as key ingredients.
"He's this year's version of Joe McKnight (who is now a freshman at USC)," said Tom Luginbill, the national recruiting coordinator for Scouts, Inc., which compiles the ESPN 150. "Only he's more dangerous because he's a quarterback and has the ball in his hands each play.''
Hill (6-3, 203 pounds), nicknamed "The Thrill" for exhilarating play as a quarterback, wide receiver, running back, return specialist and safety, came to prominence as a sophomore as he led undefeated St. Peter's to New Jersey's Group 4 Non-Public state championship over powerhouse Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey). Hill combined for nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 25 touchdowns during the championship run.
In 2006, he took St. Peter's the state final where Don Bosco won, 41-0. Despite the loss, St. Peter's went 11-1 as Hill completed 39 of 67 passes (58.2 percent) for 758 yards and 11 TDs and ran for 758 yards (11.7 yards per carry) and 15 TDs, but rarely saw significant playing time in the second half because of lopsided scores.
According to Hill's "exceptional'' evaluation compiled by Scouts, Inc., he's an impact player. To wit:
• Possesses outstanding vision, seeing things quickly and has the stop-and-start ability to exploit small creases.
• Can play any skill position and will be an impact and game-breaking player in college.
• He is a deep threat at receiver, showing ability to consistently separate from defenders.
• On defense, he possesses great motor and can match-up with speedy wideouts; can defend the perimeter at cornerback to match-up in press because of his physical nature.
"Will has the build of a wide receiver or safety but he could eventually be used at corner(back),'' said Luginbill, who previously coached in college and professional ranks.
Hill is the ninth player in the Gators' Class of 2008, joining ESPN 150 players, safety Dee Finley of Auburn (Ala.) and cornerback Jeremy Brown of Boone (Orlando).
Hills decision was influenced when Brown verballed recently. "We visited Florida together and his decision just sealed the deal," Hill said.
Student-athletes cannot sign their binding national letters-of-intent until Feb. 6, 2008 the first day of signing period.
"I think he'll make an impact early on (in college)," Hansen said.
Recruiting coordinator Craig Haubert of Scouts Inc. thinks Florida should find a way "to get both (safeties) Hill and Dee Finley on the field at the same time."
St. Peter's (2-0), No. 9 in ESPN's High Elite 25 East Region rankings, has a bye this weekend and hosts arch rivals North Bergen on Sept. 28 at 8 p.m. ET (ESPNU).
Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA TODAY, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys and girls basketball. He also for worked for Scholastic Coach magazine, where he ran the Gatorade national player of the year program for nine years. Lawlor, a New Jersey resident, grew up in Rochester, N.Y. and is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.