UW’s Top 50 football players: No. 3
LARAMIE -- During this summer series we are going to countdown the Top 50 football players in Wyoming history, presented by Premier Bone & Joint Centers, Worthy of Wyoming.
The rules are simple: What was the player's impact while in Laramie? That means NFL stats, draft status or any other accolade earned outside of UW is irrelevant when it comes to this list.
This isn't a one-man job. This task called for a panel of experts. Joining me is Robert Gagliardi, Jared Newland, Ryan Thorburn and Kevin McKinney. We all compiled our own list of 50 and let computer averages do the work. Think BCS -- only we hope this catalog is more fair.
Don't agree with a selection? Feel free to sound off on our Twitter page @7220sports.
Running back, 2014-16, Belleville, Illinois
Here's why: This is a direct quote from current Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl during Mountain West Media Days in late July.
"I just would never want to go through our change that we went through at Wyoming," he said. "I drank a lot of Pendleton whiskey, let's put it that way."
For one, Bohl was instilling a pro-style offense in a program that ran the spread for the previous five seasons under Dave Christensen. Two, the roster wasn't fit to do that. It showed, too. In Bohl's first two seasons -- 2014 and '15 -- the Cowboys won just six games.
Bright spots, there were few.
That's just part of what made Brian Hill so special.
Everyone and their mother knew who was getting the ball in those days. Hill was one of the lone weapons on the Cowboys' offense who struck fear in defensive coordinators. Some would deploy nine -- sometimes more -- players in the box to stop the bulldozer from Belleville.
It didn't work.
As a true freshman, Hill bashed away for 796 yards on the ground on 145 carries. He reached 1,000 yards from scrimmage thanks to 204 receiving yards out of the backfield. Mired in a four-game losing streak and coming off a loss to Border War rival Colorado State, Wyoming traveled to Fresno State for an all-but meaningless contest with the Bulldogs.
Bohl knew he had a potential star in the backfield. That night, Hill solidified that thought, rushing for 281 yards on 23 carries and scoring a pair of touchdowns in a 45-17 thumping. That is still the third-best rushing day in UW history.
The following fall, Hill gashed Eastern Michigan for 242 yards and a couple of scores. His 1,631 rushing yards that season is the second-best output in school history. The Cowboys won just two games. Hill, who earned second team All-Mountain West honors, still couldn't be stopped.
Fast forward to 2016 and the emergence of quarterback Josh Allen.
For the first time in Hill's tenure, Wyoming finally had a feared signal caller under center. This season wouldn't just revolve around Hill like the previous two. Tanner Gentry and Jake Maulhardt were deep threats. Jacob Hollister was a big, fast tight end. Chase Roullier was the anchor of a deeper offensive line.
Despite all that, Hill still carried the ball 349 times, 68 more than he had as a sophomore. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound back ran over, around and through defenses to the tune of a record-breaking 1,860 rushing yards. He helped lead the Cowboys from the basement of the conference to the league title game in just three seasons.
Hill, who finished his career with 4,287 yards on the ground, shattered Devin Moore's rushing record by 1,324 yards. And it took him just three years to do it.
Hill still owns the first-and second-best single-season performances in program history. His 289-yard rushing day against Nevada in 2016 is still the second-best single-game mark, just 13 yards behind Kevin Lowe, who bullied South Dakota State for 302 yards on just 10 attempts in 1984.
Hill's 35 rushing touchdowns is one better than legendary running back Eddie Talboom.
Hill was obviously a first-team selection in the Mountain West in '16. He also earned All-American status from College Sports Madness.
Hill was selected by the Atlanta Falcons in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. He is currently a member of the Tennessee Titans.
Gagliardi's take: Brian Hill wanted to play safety coming out of high school in the St. Louis area. It’s safe to say playing running back at Wyoming worked out pretty good.
Hill’s broke most of the Cowboys’ rushing records in his three-year career. He’s the career rushing leader with 4,287 yards — 1,324 yards ahead of No. 2. Hill also holds school records for rushing touchdowns (35), rushing attempts (775), average rushing yards per game (112.8), single-season rushing yards (1,860) and average rushes per game (20.4). Four of Wyoming’s 10 best single-game rushing marks belongs to Hill, and not only does he own the single-season rushing record Hill also owns the No. 2 mark (1,631).
Hill’s coming out party came during his freshman season in 2014 at Fresno State where in his first-career start he set Wyoming and Mountain West records with 387 all-purpose yards — 283 rushing and 106 receiving — in a 45-17 Cowboys victory. As Hill carved up the Fresno State defense, I looked over at the other Wyoming football beat writer covering that game and said: “Holy s*&$, this guy is something else!” The other beat writer uttered something similar in response.
Hill was a threat to score every time he touched the ball. He had a rare combination of speed and power. Sure, Wyoming used him a lot and one can argue that his numbers reflect that. Hill has 139 more carries than any other running back in school history. However, Hill’s 5.5 yards per carry over his career is the second-best among the top 11 running backs to ever play for the Cowboys.
Hill said he grew up watching and liking NFL Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson, and he showed flashes of Tomlinson’s style at Wyoming. We may not have ever seen that if Hill got his wish to play safety in college. Current Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl and his staff did a heck of a job in convincing Hill that based on his skill set that he needed to have the ball in his hands as much as possible.
Tucker's take: Should Hill have come back for his senior season?
Not a chance.
Running backs have short shelf lives. Wasn't 775 college carries enough? Plus, what else did that guy need to prove?
Like I mentioned above, despite defenses knowing who was getting the ball, there still wasn't a thing they could do about it. No offense to any players on those 2014 and '15 squads, but Hill was the guy. Period.
Hill was the perfect combination of size and speed. Once he got in the clear, he was gone. If someone happened to be in his way, like this poor soul from CSU, things like this happened:
Hill is one of the greatest players I have ever witnessed at any level of football. Those early years were brutal, but Hill was still worth the price of admission. We also learned that Bohl and his staff weren't messing around when they said they wanted to develop a rushing attack.
Hill was one of their first recruits.
I'd say that worked out just fine.
How the panel voted: Cody Tucker (3), Robert Gagliardi (4), Jared Newland (5), Ryan Thorburn (4), Kevin McKinney (10)
Previous selections: No. 50, No. 49, No. 48, No. 47, No. 46, No. 45, No. 44, No. 43, No. 42, No. 41, No. 40, No. 39, No. 38, No. 37, No. 36, No. 35, No. 34, No. 33, No. 32, No. 31, No. 30, No. 29, No. 28, No. 27, No. 26, No. 25, No. 24, No. 23, No. 22, No. 21, No. 20, No. 19, No. 18, No. 17, No. 16, No. 15, No. 14, No. 13, No. 12, No. 11, No. 10, No. 9, No. 8, No. 7, No. 6, No. 5, No. 4
Cody Tucker: Brand Manager and creator of 7220sports.com. Tucker has covered the Cowboys since June of 2019, but was a season-ticket holder for nearly three decades. Tucker has also covered Michigan State University Athletics for the Lansing State Journal and Detroit Free Press and the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins during his 10-year journalism career
Robert Gagliardi: Former sports editor and University of Wyoming beat reporter for WyoSports. Gagliardi covered the Cowboys from more than a quarter century. He also covered the team at the Branding Iron, the UW student newspaper. Gagliardi also co-authored the book: The Border War: The Bronze Boot Rivalry Between Colorado State and Wyoming
Jared Newland: Currently the local sales manager for Townsquare Media SE Wyoming, Newland worked with and around Wyoming athletics for 20 years, starting as a student athletic trainer in 1990. Newland has also served in the Sports Information Office, the Cowboy Joe Club, Wyoming Sports Properties and was a UW Athletics Hall of Fame Committee Member from 2002-14.
Ryan Thorburn: Currently covering the Oregon Ducks for The Register-Guard, Thorburn also covered the Cowboys in the early and mid-90's for the Branding Iron and Casper Star Tribune. He has also written four books about Wyoming Athletics: The Border War: The Bronze Boot Rivalry Between Colorado State and Wyoming, Cowboy Up: Kenny Sailors, The Jump Shot and Wyoming’s Championship Basketball History, Lost Cowboys: The Story of Bud Daniel and Wyoming Baseball and Black 14: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Wyoming Football
Kevin McKinney: Currently the senior associate athletics director for external affairs at the University of Wyoming, McKinney also serves as the radio color commentator for Wyoming football and men's basketball. McKinney has been involved with UW Athletics in some capacity since 1972. He was also inducted into the Wyoming Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2015.