Tony Hills: Stepping to the line
At 6-6 and 305 pounds, senior tackle Tony Hills is the anchor of the offensive line. He has earned numerous honors ranging from 2007 preseason first-team All-Big 12 to being named one of the top 10 tackles in college football. And with 37 career games under his belt, he is also the most experienced player upfront.
As a Parade All-American tight end, Hills was destined to do great things on the football field. But after sustaining a devastating injury during his senior season of high school, he was told he might not ever be able to play again.
That was not something he was willing to accept. Following corrective surgery and months of hard work, he was ready to take the field, only this time he would be lining up at offensive tackle.
"In only six months, he had undergone something pretty incredible as far as a return to play, and being able to do an activity we thought he would never be able to do the rest of his life," said Athletic Trainer for Football Kenny Boyd.
Head coach Mack Brown shares Boyd's sentiments.
"First of all you just have to give Tony full credit for having strong faith and continuing to work when people told him you probably won't play again," said Brown. "And then not only playing, but changing positions from tight end to tackle after the injury and then to reach the level he has reached is just amazing."
Hills has used his determination and infectious attitude to improve as a player and inspire his teammates.
"I think the biggest lesson I've probably learned from Tony is how to have a good attitude and how to spread that throughout the team," said senior center Dallas Griffin. "I think he does a really good job on the line of making sure that everybody is on the same page attitude wise. He's really just an uplifting guy."
Griffin also notes that Hills has helped him perfect his attention to detail.
"He is one of the hardest working guys you'll ever meet. He's a real student of the game," said Griffin. "He'll come up to me during practice and talk about some detail that's the smallest thing like the angle of his foot. He works on those little details and is always finding ways to improve his game."
Hills attributes his thoroughness to his mother, Mary, who began instilling the importance of detail in him at a very young age.
"My mom pays attention to detail, so I was raised that way," said Hills. "I always try to focus on the small things because often, in football and in life, it's the small things that are missed. And those small things can accumulate and turn into big problems or you (can fix them) and have big success."
Hills also credits Brown with helping him become the player, the leader and the man he is today.
"I think (Coach Brown) has done a really good job of showing us what a real man is," said Hills. "He's always honest with us. He tells us what's on his mind and he expects us to do the same thing. After my injury, he could have given up on me, but he told me we weren't even going to talk about football. He honored my scholarship and told me we were going to focus on getting my degree, regardless of what I could do on the field.
"If I could take anything from him, it would be how he carries himself in the public and also behind closed doors," added Hills.
Now in his fourth season at Texas, Hills has stepped into a leadership position.
"Whenever you are the oldest guy on the line, you've got a lot of responsibility, so you've just got to take that and run with it," Hills said. "What I'm trying to do now is teach these other guys what I know now and I've really been surprised about how much I learn from them, too, so the teaching is going both ways.
"Everyone leads in their own way," Hills added. "I'm kind of a lead-by-example guy. I am a vocal person, but I try to let my actions speak for themselves most of the time."
Hills explains that now it is his turn to pass on the legacy left by the players before him, which even in just the last two years includes four players currently on NFL rosters, three of which have started for their teams.
"I've picked up a lot from the guys that have left," said Hills. "They (taught me) to just go out there and play hard and don't have any regrets about how you perform. That way, if a situation doesn't end up how you want it to, you won't be second-guessing yourself. You'll know you went out there and did everything you could do.
"So I just want (the younger players) to know that when you go out on the football field, you give it all you've got regardless of the circumstances, because you never know when it can be taken away," Hills said. "I want them to appreciate every moment."