Cherokee County Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2020: Hill a heralded running back in Warrior history [VIDEO]

Tim Hill at the University of Alabama. Photo Special to WEIS.

NOTE: This is the first of five Q&A features on the Cherokee County Hall of Fame Class of 2020 inductees. The class was originally going to be inducted that year but was not because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest class of inductees will be formally honored at a banquet this Saturday at the Gadsden State-Cherokee Arena at 6 p.m. Today’s Hall of Fame focus features former Cherokee County High School running back Tim Hill.

Tim Hill played halfback at Cherokee County High School from 1974-76. He ran behind All-American running back Sam Fife his sophomore and junior seasons before taking on the starring role as a senior in 1976.

That year, Hill rushed for 1,446 yards and 18 touchdowns in leading the Warriors to a 7-3 season. He was an all-state selection and Super All-State alternate following his senior season. He also played in the North-South All-Star game, where he turned in a Most Valuable Player performance for the North after rushing for 97 yards on 24 carries in a 17-7 setback.

Hill earned a football scholarship to the University of Alabama and was the Crimson Tide’s leading offensive player on its undefeated junior varsity squad as a freshman. He entered the Crimson Tide’s 1978 spring practice as the No. 1 running back along with Major Ogilvie. However, a severe knee injury during a scrimmage ended his football career.

Hill went on to become a racquetball player and has won several regional tournaments. He’s also competed in several national tournaments. He now owns his own construction business.

Q: You were blessed with a unique combination of size, strength and speed (6-foot-2, 195 pounds; 10.1 100-yard dash). You also were part of a lineage of talented running backs that blossomed as Warriors in the 1970s and into the 1980s. Some of those guys went on to play at SEC schools and beyond, guys like Billy Woods and Sam Fife. What was it like to be part of that running back fraternity?

A: “I was a fullback my sophomore and junior year. I was blocking a lot for Sam Fife. I did learn a lot from Sam about toughness and how tough he was. He was extremely tough. I grew into that as I got older. When I became a senior, because of learning from Sam, I was ready to go. It helped me a lot. The toughness of blocking those linebackers and defensive ends helped me a lot also when I became a running back.”

Q: During your senior year, the Warriors finished 7-3 with one-point losses to Glencoe and Scottsboro and an 8-point set back to Fort Payne. Back then, only one team made the playoffs out of the area. How disheartening was it there was no reward at the end of the year?

A: “We were all hurt by that, but we knew we had to get over it and go on with our lives. Those one-point losses were painful. Some controversy was in there at Glencoe. Coach (Bobby Joe) Johnson almost got thrown out of the game because I thought I made a 2-point conversion, which we would’ve won the game. The referee said no. Coach Johnson disagreed and I disagreed. It was just the way games go. We couldn’t do anything about it.”

Q: You played against some great athletes. Ed Lett was the quarterback at Glencoe. At Scottsboro, it was Don Jacobs. Over at Fort Payne, there was a running back who went on to Clemson. Those games were contended to the end. What was it like playing against those guys?

A: “There were good athletes. We knew these teams well. We played them every year. It wasn’t just those teams, but Hokes Bluff, Piedmont, they were all good. They were all close games really. We loved it. We loved the competition.”

Q: You played alongside a lot of talented teammates as well, some guys with SEC offers like Ronnie Whorton, Terry Tallent, Richard Bishop and a number of others. What it was it like playing with those guys?

A: “There was one it hurt to lose was Deaner Eugene Smith. He was a great athlete. We only had 24 players. We lost Eugene in the spring of our senior year. He was a true leader of our defense big time. He was a great defensive player. We were just short of players really. Losing one player like that hurt us a lot. Richard Bishop, Ronnie and Terry, Phillip Abernathy, we were lucky to have those players too.”

Q: Your senior year, you ran for over 1,400 yards and scored 18 touchdowns. You were a first team all-state selection in Class 3A and you played in the 1976 all-star game. In that all-star game, you ran for 97 yards and was selected as the MVP over a couple of guys that would become your teammates at Alabama, Don Jacobs and Major Ogilvie. What was is like to play in that 1976 All-Star game?

A: “I was surprised. I was from a small town. It was all a learning experience. We had a coach from across the state. I didn’t know him and he didn’t know me. I think maybe Coach Johnson talked to him. He knew a lot about me though. Maybe Coach Johnson had something to do with that. We kind of ran the same offense we ran in high school. I felt comfortable. You get into the game and you realize that speed, all the players are really good. All the players were really fast. You just had to speed up. You had to get faster. You had to get tougher. The hitting was hard. It was a great game. That was a close game also. It was a lot of fun.”

Q: How special was it to earn the all-star game MVP?

A: “I was excited. I was still on the field and someone grabs me from behind and throws me up in the air. I was like ‘What is going on?’ When I hit the ground it was Coach Johnson. I didn’t know he was out there. I didn’t know he was at the game. He was so excited I had gotten that award. A lot of it went to him too. He made me a tough football player. Coach Johnson was a tough coach, and you had to be tough to make it on the team. I think that helped me a lot when I got to Alabama. Also that all-star game, just the toughness you had to have to play for Coach Johnson.”

Q: You mentioned it being tough to play for Coach Johnson. How did you develop that work ethic?

A: “I think it came natural. I was from a hard-working family. I learned from my mother and my dad. We always expected to work hard and liked it.”

Q: Your brothers, John and Scott, went on to collegiate careers as well. How much of an influence did they have on you?

A: “That goes back to the mother and father we had. We were tough and enjoyed the hard work. We liked it. I never remember seeing my mother watch TV all the time we were coming up. She was just always too tired. She worked so hard. My dad was right there beside her. That’s what they taught us, to work hard. We were following them.

“Scott was small and John was big. John, by the end of the first year we were there, he stayed out of college the first year out of high school. When I went to Alabama, he went with me and walked on. After the first year he got a scholarship. He did so well. The next year Scott was there. He walked on also. He was little but tough, and the coaches loved him. They would get so excited at some of the stuff he would do. They just loved him. He got injured also. He had a bad knee injury. He got to play just one year. He was doing good. John went on to play all four years and did real well.”

Q: What do you remember about the recruiting visits?

A: “Georgia really wanted me bad. We already had Billy Wood at Georgia. Sam was at Georgia. They were after me. Going to visit Georgia, I remember me and my parents went to homecoming. They said they were having a big party after the game. Of course we went to the game, then we went to the party. There was like 200 people at the party. It was all seated. They said your name would be on the table. Just find your table. When me and my parents found our table, we noticed Vince Dooley and his wife were sitting at the table also. That was quite interesting. His wife had an unbelievable personality. We had a lot of fun. I really like the University of Georgia and the athletic department. I almost went there. It was close.”

Q: In Tuscaloosa, freshmen had to play junior varsity football then. You had a very good fall. You averaged nearly six yards per carry. The junior varsity squads had the Little Iron Bowl, between Auburn and Alabama. You had five carries for 30 yards. Alabama won that game 14-7. What was that Little Iron Bowl experience like?

A: “What I really remember was I broke into the open (field) one time and I thought ‘I’ve got a touchdown.’ The speed was so much different in college. If it would’ve been a high school game, I would’ve scored. Someone gets me from the side. I didn’t even see them. I thought I had it. I just remember the speed of the game, how fast everybody was. I just had to get faster. It was an exciting game. I think I recovered a fumble in that game also. I was on special teams. I think it was a punt or something. I recovered a fumble. It was fun. Playing at Legion Field, it was an honor to get to play there. It was good, a lot of fun.”

Q: You had a productive spring and a promising career in front of you. What do you remember about that spring?

A: “I remember Coach (Clem) Gryska calling me in and my friends were down in the weight room talking. One of the managers came up and said ‘Coach Gryska wants to see you Tim.’ I go up and he’s just building me up, just talking about how much Coach Bryant likes me, how much the entire staff likes me, and how excited they are about my future, just telling me to work hard and you’re going to be a starter soon. I go back downstairs and the guys were all like ‘What were they wanting?’ I told them and they said ‘Well, they didn’t call us up there.’ I remember that.

“I was excited. I knew I had gotten bigger, stronger and faster. I was really excited about the next year before I got hurt. I was excited and ready to go.”

Q: How did the knee injury happen? Do you ever wonder about what might’ve been?

A: “It was in a scrimmage. We had a bye week at the beginning of the year. We played Nebraska and beat them pretty bad, then we had a bye week and Coach Bryant always wanted to have a scrimmage on a Saturday if you had a bye week. It was during a scrimmage. I broke into the open and thought ‘I’ve got a touchdown.’ The same thing happened. I saw a defensive back coming out of the corner of my eye and he dove and jumped and caught the back of my shoulder pads, which is a horse collar. Then it was legal. It’s not legal anymore because of the injuries. He barely got me. His weight went on to my back and all my weight was on one leg and it twisted me. That knee just popped out of joint and twisted around. It was a severe dislocation of the knee that you don’t come back from.

“It was tough getting over it, but when we’re young, we get over things much better. I had a lot of encouragement from teammates and that kind of stuff. I made it without much trouble.

“I do wonder, but at the same time, some of my friends who did go into the pros have head injuries and they don’t do that well. You have to measure it all out. Maybe the injury was the best thing that happened. Maybe it was good that it happened. I don’t know.”

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