With Dax Hill, it’s more than just a ‘mind for the game’

Football

With each big play, it gets harder to believe Daxton Hill is the youngest on the field.

As the highest-rated recruit in Michigan’s 2019 class, the freshman safety’s talent has never been a secret. Since making his presence known with a 25-yard reception on a fake punt in his second career game, he’s only come on stronger each week.

During Saturday night’s dominant showing against Notre Dame, Hill made his biggest impact yet. In the latest example of the football instincts his coaches and teammates have praised since his arrival, Hill snuffed out and broke up a third-down crossing route — something the Wolverines have struggled to do all season.

As it would turn out, the pass break-up was only the beginning of Hill’s big night. He went on to recover a pair of fumbles to help U-M’s defense stifle the Irish.

“His mind for the game (stands out),” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “He’s a really smart player. He understands beyond his years.”

On one of the recoveries, Hill was nowhere near the action when the ball hit the turf. But as he watched it develop 18 yards in front of him, he sensed the possibility of a pivotal moment when three of his teammates collapsed on the ball. Despite his youth, he took off and ultimately came away with the loose ball.

“(Hill) just knew to accelerate and went in like an arrow through snow to get the football and come up with that recovery,” Harbaugh said of the play. “I thought that was really impressive.”

Hill’s instincts don’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s watched his high school tape. His nose for the football makes him a game-breaking playmaker, but there’s more to his rapid ascension this season.

With Hill, the brevity of his seamless transition from high school to high-level college football is what stands out. On Saturday, he proved capable of dictating a game against a top-10 team on the national stage, not just a lackluster non-conference opponent.

In the same breath, Harbaugh pointed to a specific example of Hill’s maturity in pass coverage. Since of Hill’s emergence, his speed has upgraded Michigan’s pass coverage in a way that’s obvious to the naked eye.

“(Hill) just sensed the timeline and saw the pass was high and was just smooth as he could be, and not holding and grabbing,” Harbaugh said. “He just saw it all and calculated all those things and let the pass be incomplete. So many examples like that where he just has a real intuition for the game.”

When Hill arrived on campus for his first fall camp just a few short months ago, his eye-opening intuition defined him. Now, after eight games’ worth of experience, the marriage of his instinct and technique is apparent. When you factor in his elite athleticism, it’s hard to imagine a ceiling.

“I think he’s improved in all aspects, all phases of football,” said junior defensive back Brad Hawkins. “He’s a great player, of course — fast, getting more physical, he’s definitely a guy that can cover anybody in the country. He’s somebody that’s definitely going to be special.”

At this point, there’s reason to believe that day may come sooner than later.

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