D'Vonta Hinton was the three-star everybody should've wanted, a record-setting inside linebacker out of Texas City, Texas, who plays like a missile and logged more than 370 tackles in high school.
But being 5-foot-10 and 222 pounds made it tough for recruiters to buy in. Texas Tech went all-in, making Hinton their only linebacker signee for 2015. Now he's ready to pay them back with a big freshman year.
Hinton recently caught up with ESPN.com before enrolling at Tech to discuss his size, his new defensive coordinator and his favorite hit.
What are your coaches expecting from you in Year 1?
D'Vonta Hinton: Just to come in and compete and be the best ballplayer I can to help motivate the team. The team’s looking for a leader to help lead the defense. My playing time is based on me. They’ll give me an opportunity to try to start and I have to make the best of my opportunities.
What are you going to remember about the recruiting process?
DH: The recruiting process was hard for me because of my height and my position. I’m 5-10. That’s not usual for an inside linebacker. They want linebacker at 6 feet or 6-1. A lot of schools recruited me and liked the tape but wouldn’t offer. Since day one, when Coach [Kevin] Curtis met me in person, from that day he recruited me hard and would say, ‘I’m getting you that offer. I’m getting you that offer.’ He was a man of his word and got me that offer. He was a big influence on why I chose Texas Tech.
Was it difficult to convince other recruiters to believe in you?
DH: The coaches, at the end of the day, make that decision so I can’t convince them. They have to go on what they feel. But I didn’t beg anyone or anything like that. I just felt if it was meant to be it would happen.
What kind of motivation has that provided for your career?
DH: Oh yeah, I’ve always had that growing up so it’s nothing new for me. It’s pushing me to strive harder and just take it day by day and give it my best. I definitely have a chip on my shoulder.
Did more coaches pursue you after you committed at Tech?
DH: Yeah, TCU and Houston did. Really, I stuck with Tech because they believed in me. When I visited Tech, everybody showed me a lot of love. I could see myself playing there for the next four years. It was special. I felt welcomed.
Do you think people overrate the difficulties you face by playing at 5-foot-10?
DH: Of course, to me, I feel like that. I actually think I have an advantage by being shorter than the usual linebacker. I’m explosive and quick at my position. A lot of linemen can’t really get their hands on me. Once they do, they’ve got to bend way down. By that time, I’m already moved around them.
Tech has changed defensive coordinators again. Do you feel like there will be stability now under David Gibbs?
DH: You know, the crazy thing is, I was on my UH official visit and I meet this guy named David Gibbs. I was in the hotel and thinking, ‘Man, I’d for sure go to Texas Tech if David Gibbs goes to Texas Tech.’ I’d heard UH was getting a new head coach and they were bringing in new coaches, so everyone was up in the air. I just liked that guy and his defense. He’s going to call you out and tell you like it is. He’s not going to sugarcoat. That’s what I like from a coach.
And sure enough, about two weeks later, they announce David Gibbs is Texas Tech’s new defensive coordinator. I was like, ‘Wow! This is meant for me. This is meant to be.’
When did you start going by the “Hitman” nickname?
DH: My junior year. I think somebody else called me that during a game after a big play: ‘Matter of fact, that’s Hitman right there!’
Do you remember your favorite hit?
DH: Oh yeah. Friendswood. Kickoff coverage. I don’t play kickoff, but they kept running it back 30 or 40 yards. So coach said, ‘Hinton, get on kickoffs.’ My first time lining up on kickoffs, they kicked the ball off and I’m running down the field. I see him. He don’t see me. And I just go wild. He did a flip. I jumped up going, ‘WOO WOO.’ They were yelling, ‘That’s Hitman!’ You have to check that out. [Highlight here at 1:51]