The Wolverine

December 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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16 THE WOLVERINE DECEMBER 2020 BY JOHN BORTON J im Harbaugh raised some eye- brows with his assessment of sophomore safety Daxton Hill recently, saying he may be "our most talented player on the team." Eyebrows didn't budge in Tulsa, Okla., and surrounding environs. The response there sounded some- thing like this: Yes … as expected. The folks back home still marvel at memories of the 6-0, 192-pound product of Booker T. Washington High School. Like the time it played a winless- but-feisty Ponca City squad that brought out not only Hill's superior on-field skills but also his gracious- ness away from the field. "He goes up for an interception on the sideline, and goes completely helmet-to-helmet with one of their guys and chips his tooth," recalled Mike Blitch, defensive coordinator at Booker T. Washing- ton. "This kid just crowns him with the crown of his helmet, right across the facemask. " D a x c h i p s his tooth — just breaks it clean in half. After the game, one of the Ri- vals guys was actually there. They wanted to talk to him. He didn't want to do the interview, because his tooth was broken in half. He kept his lip down and covered it, did the interview like that. "He's just a good kid like that. And he's had a lot of special moments like that." The same game, Hill woke up a roster that found itself down a touch- down at halftime. When there's a moment to be seized, noted former Booker T. head coach Brad Calip — now an assistant at Owasso High — Hill invariably seized it. "Ponca City was winless," Blitch stressed. "We're playing 0-9 Ponca City, on the road, and we're actu- ally down, 7-0, at halftime. We come out in the second half, and the first series of the second half, Dax takes a receiver jet to the house, 45 yards and ties it up. "The very next series, they get the ball, he picks it off and takes it to the house. It's back-to-back series, he scores twice in like 30 seconds and puts us up." Josh Helmholdt, a former recruit- ing writer for who later became's Midwest recruiting analyst, was in attendance. He remembers that game well. "They were undefeated, and they were down to a team they weren't supposed to lose to in the first half," Helmholdt offered. "All of a sud- den, coming out of halftime, Dax Hill broke it open. It was two touch- downs with an interception in the first five minutes of the second half. "It was really that ability to ap- preciate the moment, know what his team needed and deliver it." Hill is now looking to deliver for a Michigan squad on which the sec- ondary hasn't been a strength early. The Wolverines' cornerbacks have been picked on mightily, and Michi- gan has called on Hill to play some cornerback and help out from his safety spot. With the loss of on-field leadership after the injury to junior defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, Hill might be called on to do even more. He can be a voice of strength, noted Michigan radio sideline reporter Doug Karsch. "He's the best player on the de- fense," Karsch insisted. "While his time in Ann Arbor isn't long, he could be a guy who steps up and becomes a real leader, and sends a message to the rest of the defense — what's hap- pened thus far isn't good enough. "It's one thing to hear it from the coaches. It's another to hear it from the best player. That's a gear we've yet to see that Dax has, but maybe it is. "He's the man on that D. He could act like it, and he can demand a lot of his teammates." STEPPING UP AT MICHIGAN Hill snagged his first career inter- ception last year against Indiana, and would have secured another against the Hoosiers this year had a team- mate not tipped it away at the last second. The sophomore proved a bright spot in a rough day in Bloom- ington, making seven tackles for a second straight game in the Wolver- ines' 38-21 setback. Afterward, Hill sounded deter- mined to be part of a Michigan sec- ondary that gets better as the season goes along. "We still need to do better in the pass game," Hill said. "Our defense shut down their run week-in and week-out, so we need to hone in on the pass. This is a new defense that lost some guys from last year. We all have to be on one page. "Communication is the biggest key in any defense, in the secondary. It's about practice reps and how prac- tice translates to games. We do well in practice; we just have to make it happen in games. We have to keep our heads high and keep executing during the games." Specifically, he noted, Michigan's defensive backs have to go beyond getting into posi- tion. "It's about play- ing the ball bet- t e r, " H i l l s a i d . "Third downs, we had many oppor- tunities to get off the field. We need to fix penalties and play the ball a lot better. We're in great position every time, so playing the ball better is the next step." Harbaugh sees no issues with at least one quarter of the Michigan secondary. He offers up nothing but praise for the second-year Wolverine. "He's doing really good," Har- baugh said. "That's somebody you talk about, whose conditioning lev- els are at such a high level. He just plays the whole game really well. He's playing really good and getting better every single week. "His coverage skills, and then his physical play — I thought his physi- cal play was really good [against In- diana]. He made some outstanding tackles in the game as well. He's as- cending all the way." "He's a talented player, and he's not afraid to throw his body to stop the runner," added redshirt sopho- more defensive end Taylor Upshaw. "He's physical. He's gotten bigger and more physical, and you can tell." RISING STAR Sophomore Daxton Hill Possesses The Tools To Dominate Head coach Jim Harbaugh said Hill may be "our most talented player on the team." PHOTO COURTESY MICHIGAN PHOTOGRAPHY

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