In secondary, Morgan leans on Hill Once a movie extra, DB takes leading role

September 09, 1992|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Staff Writer

If this is Morgan State, and Eddie Hill is the school's best football player, why is it that friends always are asking him to sing his high school alma mater?

Hill, about to begin his fourth season as a starting defensive back in Morgan's opener Saturday at Liberty, knows why.

During his days at Eastside High in Paterson, N.J., he had a cameo role in the movie "Lean On Me." It is a story about a no-nonsense principal, Joe Clark, played by Morgan Freeman, who strides into unruly, inner-city Eastside and, with the students' help, restores order.

Some students were enlisted as extras for the movie, and five were selected to sing their alma mater in Eastside's men's room. They sang itwell enough that they now are under contract as a professional group called Riff.

Hill wasn't part of that -- all he did in the movie was walk down the school hall in silence -- but his friends at Morgan still try to goad him into giving his rendition of Eastside's alma mater.

"They held auditions for the students as extras from May until August, paying $75 a day whenever you showed up," Hill said. "I didn't realize until I went to the premiere and saw myself walking down the hall that I had actually been included."

Hill's acting career ended abruptly, but his football career was gathering steam. At least it did after he recovered from the broken wrist that caused him to miss most of his senior season as a tailback and defensive back.

A few major colleges showed interest, but an Eastside assistant coach urged Hill to take a hard look at Morgan.

"I wanted a black school, not too large, not too far from home, but not too close, either," Hill said. "The coach said I'd get more personal attention in the classroom at a smaller school. I went out for football as a walk-on."

Midway through his freshman year, Hill became a Morgan starter.Soon, he got a partial scholarship. Ricky Diggs arrived as Morgan's new coach before spring practice in 1991, and gave Hill a full scholarship as soon as the workouts ended.

"There was no question he deserved it," Diggs said. "He was a cut above the others in tenacity and enthusiasm. Some others with full scholarships didn't have his ability."

This past spring, Diggs and his assistants ranked the players according to ability, contributions to the team and leadership.

"It was like we were starting a new team and drafting players," Diggs said. "Who would be the first pick? Eddie was. He's a motivator; the players look up to him."

Hill played most of last year with a separated shoulder, yet showed enough to be named Morgan's only representative on this year's Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference preseason all-star team.

"There were times we'd see him trying to tackle with one arm," Diggs said. "Eddie can play with pain."

Now a solid 5 feet 11, 185 pounds, Hill leads the team's defensive backs with a bench press of 350 pounds and a vertical jump of 32 inches. Asked whether his shoulder has healed fully, Hill smiled.

"If I was able to bench-press 350 a few weeks ago, it must be all right."

Because the Bears lost 12 starters from last season and are a young team, Diggs will rely heavily on Hill.

"He'll provide on-the-field leadership that only an experienced player can give," Diggs said. "He can rally the troops. Eddie's mere presence on the field will be advantageous."

On a team coming off a 1-10 season, Diggs could use another dozen just like him.

Morgan State at a glance

Coach: Ricky Diggs, 2nd year (1-10)

Last year's record: 1-10

Affiliation: Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, Division I-AA.

Radio: WEAA-FM 89.7

Top returning players: Dante Carter, Jr., WR; Ernest Johnson, So., OL; Michael Moore, So., QB; Orlando Persell, Jr., QB; Craig Still, Sr., OL; Eddie Hill, Sr., CB; Mario Rivers, Jr., FS; Marc Roberts, Sr., LB; Matt Steeples, Jr., DT; Michael Andrews, Sr., P-PK.

Top newcomers: Dondeal Mixon, So., WR; Tony Moore, Jr., WR; Tony Phillips, Jr., RB; Wallace Marshall, Fr., LB; Shakil Sutton, Fr., LB; Thad Hoffmeister, Fr., SS.

Strengths: The Bears have an abundance of talent at wide receiver and defensive back, and the former will be utilized in the run-and-shoot offense.

Weaknesses: There could be as few as four senior starters when the Golden Bears open at Liberty, and both lines are young. Diggs is attempting to change the attitude of a program that hasn't won since 1979.

Strongest opponent: Central State comes to Hughes Stadium Oct. 17, and former Oklahoma quarterback Charles Thompson is the latest addition to the NAIA power.

Key game: The Bears must make the most of the only home game in their first five, a Sept. 26 date with Division II Johnson C. Smith.

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