COLLEGE PARK - Shaun Hill was buried so deep in Middle America that the major college football recruiters couldn't find him three years ago.
Maryland's highly regarded junior quarterback was tucked far away in the same coal-mining countryside that produced Mickey Mantle. Hill was a four-sport standout at little Parsons (Kan.) High School, about an hour's drive from Mantle's hometown of Commerce, Okla.
Hill talked proudly yesterday about Mantle, saying: "My high school friend's mother was actually named after Mickey Mantle, and she grew up in the same town [Commerce] as he did. My friend's grandfather knew Mickey Mantle."
So where is Parsons?
"Parsons is located in a little corner where Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri all meet, and it's kind of in the middle of nowhere," said Hill. "There are only about 12,000 people in Parsons, but it's still one of the bigger towns around that part of the country. I'm sure my location probably hurt me in the recruiting process. None of the Division I schools in Kansas had heard of me, and only two of the five Division II schools within an hour of me expressed some interest in me."
However, neither Pittsburg State nor Washington University wanted Hill as a quarterback. When Hill told Pittsburg State he wanted to play quarterback, the Division II Kansas school told him he would have to make the team as a walk-on.
Washington University, a Division II school from Topeka, Kan., wanted Hill to play safety and punt. So, Hill turned down both schools and headed off to Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College to keep his dream of playing quarterback alive.
That would be the beginning of a trip that would land the 6-foot-3, 229-pound Hill in College Park last spring and thrust him into the middle of a three-way battle for the Terps' No. 1 quarterback job. Hill has been an instant hit at Maryland and seems to be neck-and-neck with returning starter Calvin McCall for the right to start this season.
The junior-college transfer made a good first impression at Byrd Stadium last April, when he completed 13 of 16 passes for 152 yards and one touchdown, including a 47-yard pass to Scooter Monroe.
Hill exuded confidence that evening, and he has improved tremendously in preseason camp. He never seems to get rattled and is so well prepared to run the Maryland offense that he seldom makes a mistake.
"My confidence comes from being mentally prepared," said Hill. "You have to be prepared for everything you do. If you don't have the thought process in order, you're in trouble. I learned a lot about being exact, prepared and prompt from my parents [Ted and Trudy], who are both educators."
Ted Hill is an assistant principal, athletic director, and former head basketball coach at Parsons High, and Trudy Hill is the school nurse. Ted Hill coached his son Shaun at Parsons and watched him make all-state three years, play all five positions, and establish school records for assists, steals, blocks, and three-point field goals.
However, Shaun Hill decided midway through his senior year he wanted to play football in college, and "that ended the basketball recruiting process." He played baseball and ran track in the spring. The unflappable Hill has certainly come a long way since being snubbed by the Pittsburg States of the world.
"A lot of hard work and an undying dream - that's what got me here," he said. "Without that, I'd still be in Kansas playing D-II ball somewhere. I think a lot of intangibles go into the equation for my success so far. I feel like talent-wise, I'm not the most gifted quarterback. But as for work ethic, confidence and all the mental things, I feel very comfortable with myself at quarterback."
There is obviously still some hurt in Hill's voice when he talks about being ignored by almost everybody but Maryland.
The University of Kansas had a second chance at Hill when he came out of Hutchinson Community College after two years.
But, he said, "I had to tell them a couple of times where I was from, and they didn't believe me. Like I said, they never really heard of me. I guess it's their loss now. I think the bottom line for me being ignored was that everybody back home runs the option in college, and that is not my strong point."
Also, Hill believes the Kansas schools didn't think he was a "legitimate 4.6 or 4.7 in the 40. They never bothered to look at the intangibles I could bring to a team. I've had a chance here to show what I can do."
And just how has the 20-year-old youngster from Parsons, Kan., meshed with his teammates and the major metropolitan areas of Baltimore and Washington?"[Other players] look at me as a big country boy," said Hill. "But I'm not a farm boy. I lived in the town. I kind of play up the country thing a little, though. I'll drive around in my car when some of my teammates are with me and play country music. A lot of them enjoy it, but some of them can't stand it."
As for Baltimore and Washington, two of Hill's favorite stops are in Charm City. "I love the ESPN Zone and Harborplace," he said. "Washington is too hard to get around it. There are too many one-way streets. It is even tough driving around this campus."