Rod Hill: Back to his roots
April 14, 2016
Walking down the streets of State College, Pennsylvania, Rod Hill witnessed the euphoria of a once-distraught fan base.
They danced. They yelled. They screamed.
After mourning the disastrous sanctions placed against the Penn State football team in light of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Nittany Lions fans finally had something to root for: a bowl game.
“That was pretty cool to see,” Hill said.
It was 2014, over two years since news of Sandusky’s inappropriate relations with minors surfaced. After a two-year postseason ban, Penn State was finally granted postseason eligibility again.
And it took advantage, beating Boston College 31-30 in overtime of the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.
“I was a part of that,” Hill said. “That was pretty cool. It was good for the Penn State faithful to have something like that happen for them, because they’re a very, very loyal fan base.”
Hill is loyal himself.
After serving as an intern at Penn State and a graduate assistant at Mercer, Hill has accepted a position as the director of strength and conditioning at his alma mater, Howard University in Washington D.C.
Born in Philadelphia and raised in Reading, Pennsylvania, Hill said he had a “pretty good childhood” being raised by both of his parents as one of seven children in the family. In high school, he succeeded on the football field at defensive tackle and eventually landed a scholarship from Howard, an FCS school.
“I owe all of that to my parents,” Hill said. “[They] helped shape me into the person I am today and taught me all of the attributes that I needed to succeed on the field and off the field.”
But winning didn’t always come easy. In his first two years at Howard, Hill’s teams went 2-9 and 1-10. After Carey Bailey was fired, the team improved to 5-6 in Gary Harrell’s first season. Then, during Hill’s senior season, the Bison finished second in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with a 7-4 record in 2012.
It was the first time the program reached the seven-win mark since 1998.
“It’s nice to know that me and the people I came in with were able to have an impact like that on this program,” Hill said.
Once he graduated, Hill traded his pads and helmet for a clipboard and headset. He took an assistant defensive line coach position with Kutztown University, a Division II program in Pennsylvania.
But after helping the team for the 2013 season, Hill pursued strength and conditioning and landed the Penn State internship in 2014. He then applied for a graduate assistant position at Mercer.
At first, it didn’t seem likely.
“I think they kind of just looked over it and didn’t pay any mind,” Hill said.
But when he discovered his mentor at Penn State knew Carl Miller, the assistant strength and conditioning coach at Mercer, he found his “in” to the program.
He interviewed over the phone and was offered the position the next day.
“I had to move from Pennsylvania down to Georgia in like four days,” Hill said of the quick transition.
But he would settle into his role. He served as a graduate assistant from January 2015 to February 2016, taking responsibility over certain athletic teams and collaborating with the strength and conditioning staff on larger teams, such as football, who has approximately 100 players.
But when an opportunity came knocking, Hill couldn’t decline. His former strength coach at Howard held multiple positions in athletics and eventually decided he needed to slow down.
“So he called one day and was like, ‘Look, man, I need a break,’ ” Hill said. “ ‘I need to give up something, and I think this is what I’m going to give up. I’m sick of waking up at five o’clock in the morning.’ ”
And when Hill asked Director of Strength and Conditioning Jon Mangel if he could leave Mercer to accept the position, Hill said his boss told him it was a chance he could not pass up.
He was heading back to his collegiate roots. But this time, he was the one in charge.
“Up here, I’m the only guy. I have to come up with everything myself, and I still reach out to those guys back at Mercer,” Hill said. “I still get ideas and still get help from them because they were such a big influence and shaped me into the person that I am today — the coach that I am today. I wouldn’t be here without them.”