LOGAN – Joe Hill was off to a good start last football season. After playing behind Utah State running backs Kerwynn Williams and Robert Turbin for two years, Hill was now the starter. The Aggie running back was averaging 4.8 yards per carry and was sharing the backfield with Heisman Trophy candidate Chuckie Keeton.
That was until Hill’s season came to a halt during week five. He suffered a knee injury at San Jose State that took him off the field and put him on the sidelines. Hill wasn’t alone though. One week later, a knee injury to Keeton would sideline the star quarterback as well. The injury to Keeton marked the start of a long recovery process the two would go through together.
The two shared a very similar rehab schedule and would spend the next several months together, encouraging each other and working out side by side. Hill said that having to go through an injury like that was hard, but having a friend go through the same thing made it easier.
“He challenged me a lot,” he said. “We challenged each other every day. I was with him all day, every day. We ran together. We did rehab together and stuff like that. It was great.”
Keeton believes the bonding that took place will translate to added success.
“For me and Joe having to deal with our injuries at the same time just gave us a stronger connection,” he said. “At the end of the day, that means that chemistry is going to flow over onto the field.”
After the injuries to Keeton and Hill, the Aggies suffered two losses in a row: a 31 – 14 loss to BYU, followed by a 34 – 23 loss to Boise State. The team bounced back winning six of the final seven games, including a bowl victory over Northern Illinois. Now that Hill and Keeton are cleared and ready to go, Aggie fans are ready to see what the team can accomplish in 2014.
“Every one of you is just like me and ready to see those guys run around and be the same Chuckie Keeton and Joe Hill that we know and love,” USU Head Coach Matt Wells said.
This could be a big year for Hill. The Aggies have had a 1,000-yard rusher each of the past three seasons. That includes Joey DeMartino, Hill’s 2013 replacement who stepped up after the injury. Hill has already received national recognition by being listed as a Doak Walker Award candidate, an award that goes to the nation’s top running back.
“It’s cool to be noticed like that,” Hill said. “But I’m just ready to just let my work speak for itself.”
Keeton, who can probably relate to Hill’s recovery better than anyone else, believes in Hill and expects a lot from him.
“I can tell you that he’s back and feeling good,” Keeton said. “I definitely want to test him and see how far he’s going to push himself. I can definitely see some big things coming out of Joe this season.”