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Archive for Saturday, September 23, 2006

UT’s Hills puts injury, old position in the past

September 23, 2006

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— Tony Hills signed with Texas as one of the best tight end prospects in the country. Three years later, he hasn't caught a pass.

But no worries. Instead of bowling over defensive backs in the secondary, Hills is now firmly entrenched at left tackle and could develop into the next Longhorns All-American on the offensive line.

Not bad for a guy who dreamed of scoring touchdowns before tearing up his knee so bad that doctors worried he might have trouble just walking again, let alone playing football.

"People say they have a respect for the game," Hills said. "(But) until it's almost taken away from you, you don't understand."

Hills was everybody's All-American at Alief Elsik High School near Houston in 2002. A can't-miss college prospect, he led his team deep into the state playoffs until a pass in the first half of a semifinal game in San Antonio nearly ended his career.

He was trying to shake off a tackler around his shoulders when another hit him low. His left knee twisted and buckled, shredding ligaments.

"It was nobody's fault. It was just one of those things," said Bill Barron, Hills' high school coach. "But it was a terrible injury."

When Hills made his official recruiting visit to Texas in January 2003, he used a wheelchair while his leg was locked in a cast. Hills had already orally committed to Texas, and coach Mack Brown signed him in February.

But doctors worried the injury was so severe that he had nerve damage and might have trouble walking again. It had already left him with drop foot, meaning he had trouble picking up his foot when he walked.

Surgery corrected the ligaments but didn't completely fix the foot problem.

Hills had been out of football for a year when he finally enrolled in the spring of 2004. He moved from tight end to tackle right away in spring drills.

"The transition wasn't that hard from high school because we ran an option offense. We ran the ball a lot, so the run plays and blocking as far as an offensive lineman was easy," Hills said. "Pass protection. That was a little difficult."

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