There is no argument that defensive tackle Trysten Hill’s time at UCF was complicated.
But on first blush Hill, picked in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys, may be a complicated soul.
Picture the 6-foot-3, 308-pound Hill in a wet suit. Now, put a rifle and fishing rod in his hand.
What you have is a country boy, who grew up in tiny Live Oak, Fa., who also scuba dives.
”I learned how to scuba dive in Key West with my grandfather,” said Hill sporting a smile and pony-tailed dreadlocks with colored beads following his first rookie mini-camp practice with the Cowboys. “I am from the country. I guess so. You can give me that title. I like to hunt and fish. I don’t know what that teams. I don’t know what that means. But I guess if that means I’m country, then I am.”
What there is no question about is Hill’s passion for football and connection with defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, which is why the Cowboys took the talented pass rusher amid questions about a falling out with the coaching staff during his final season at UCF in 2018 when he started just one game and didn’t play much in the bowl game.
He is considered the perfect fit for the three-technique tackle in Marinelli’s 4-3 scheme that made Warren Sapp into a Hall of Famer in Tampa Bay because of his quick first step and ability to disrupt the pocket.
But it was his relentless effort and love for the game that sold the Cowboys and Marinelli on Hill as he spent his 21st birthday going over plays in a budget hotel in Orlando.
”We were in the hotel lobby actually. On my birthday, yes sir,” Hill said. “We just hung out in the lobby. It was my 21st. We were there and talking football, talking drills and everything like that. I’m not really used to nice hotels. But coach said it was a little shack. It was run down. We had two little chairs pulled up to a table.
”But that doesn’t make the difference. That’s the experience that I’m happy to look back at and say that I spent my 21st with my coach.”
Hill said they didn’t pop any bottles. They just talked about football and talked about drills.
”Obviously, the relationship that we had, he knows that I know football,” Hill said. “He knows that I know what to do right from wrong and just being able to talk with him. And he asked me how I was feeling, how I was doing. It was before Pro Day. He was making sure that I was right mentally and that’s what I respect most out of him.”
Hill’s bond with Marinelli has only grown deeper and more intense since the draft. He said it’s a dream come true to be finally on the field and be coached by Marinelli.
”He wants the best out of me,” Hill said. “He has taken care of me and unwavering his support. He has gotten the best out of players before me. When he talks to me and communicates I can tell wants that. I want to be able to that for him.”
Hill’s attitude, deference and respect toward Marinelli certainly doesn’t jive with a player who had a problem with his coaching staff a UCF. But there is no getting around that that Hill started 13 games as a sophomore in 2017 but started just one in 2018 and didn’t play much in the Fiesta Bowl loss to LSU.
The major difference was a coaching change. It’s didn’t go unnoticed that Hill thanked former UCF coach Scott Frost and his staff when he declared for the NFL Draft, but he didn’t acknowledge current coach Josh Heupel and his staff.
Hill thinks the whole situation got fueled the wrong way and maintains that he has always been coachable. But he also acknowledged that he may not have handled everything the right way himself.
”I think there was some emotion involved,” Hill said. “Some things I didn’t do as well, looking back on it, as I did. That is what it is. We did have a coaching change. That stuff happens. I realized that. Every coach from high school until now had my best interest in mind. There were two different coaching staffs. They both wanted me to perform my best and I did.
”I can’t go back in the past and change that. Ever since then, I have gone back to UCF and talked and been able to go out to practice. I have talked to the coach. I know having my roots at UCF is really important and I want to keep establishing that.”
The Cowboys did their homework, talking to both staffs about Hill and came away satisfied with him as a player and a person.
Despite not starting, his production on the field was just as high in 2018 as it was in 2017. And he continues to display the right attitude.
”Certainly an impressive young man and that’s one of the reasons we drafted him,” coach Jason Garrett said of his early mini-camp impressions of Hill. “We got to know him through the whole process. He’s very likeable, got great enthusiasm for life and for football.”
The Cowboys are high on him because he has the skills and talent to be the prototypical “under” tackle in this defense.
”The word that jumps out to me is explosive, disruptive,” Garrett said. “The really good ones have great quickness; are strong, powerful, and continue to disrupt both in the run game and the pass game. If you picture a guy like Warren Sapp may be the best one that coach Marinelli’s had during his time in Tampa. If you go back and watch those tapes, he’s just off the ball quicker than everyone and through the offensive line raising hell and causing havoc for the opposing team.”
That’s who the Cowboys, namely Marinelli, believe Hill can be.
The first day of minicamp is just the first step.
Still, his complicated past at UCF is going to hang over Hill’s head until he paints another picture of himself and proves Marinelli right.
“I think that fuels me,” Hill said. “To be able to go through that and experience that is definitely a learning experience. It is fuel. It definitely keeps me going and wants me to prove everybody wrong.”