Talented Will Hill determined, again, to stay out of trouble

Will Hill's talent has never been in question. But can he stay out of trouble with the Ravens?

Will Hill can routinely recite lines from the "Harry Potter" films, a familiarity bred from becoming a self-described homebody by abandoning a habit of frequenting nightclubs.

Hill has seen every movie in the "Hunger Games" trilogy. And the Ravens' starting free safety and his brother are devoted fans of the "Sons of Anarchy" television series.

"My living habits, I don't go out on the town much," Hill said. "I sit in the house with my family. I used to be a nightclub guy, especially coming out of college. I've just been watching a lot of movies. I'm a homebody. I took a long look in the mirror and decided to change a lot of things."

Hill, who arrives at the Ravens training complex between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m. to lift weights and study film, had plenty of good reasons to reorder his life. A three-time violator of NFL drug policies, Hill lost a plum job with the New York Giants in June when he was released after losing an appeal for a positive drug test for marijuana that he attributed to inhaling second-hand smoke at a nightclub.

Marijuana has had a severely negative effect on Hill's career and reputation. His problems with the drug, which go back to his time at Florida, prompted him to twice seek help for addiction at treatment clinics in Boston and New Jersey.

Hill, 24, was emphatic that he's sworn off marijuana, knowing the damage that another strike in the NFL drug policy would inflict on a career he's revived this year with the Ravens. Hill has drawn positive reviews from the coaching staff through seven games, including five starts, heading into Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"I can't do it, ever," said Hill, who's subject to frequent drug testing by the NFL as a repeat offender. "It would kill my career. It would be the death of me."

'I'm just happy ... I have a job'

Signed by the Ravens in late July to a one-year, $570,000 contract, Hill served a six-game suspension without pay after his agents and the NFL Players Association unsuccessfully lobbied the league to shorten his punishment under a revised league drug policy. The latest suspension cost Hill $201,176 in game checks.

Hill has been suspended for a total of 14 games in three NFL seasons, including two four-game suspensions triggered by positive tests for Adderall and marijuana. The suspensions cost him a total of $405,882 and created an impression of unreliability.

Hill said he turned to marijuana as a relief from stress caused by everything from his old crime-ridden neighborhood in New Jersey to dealing with family issues and people seeking money from him because of his status as an NFL player.

Since Hill joined the Ravens, teammates, team officials and coaches say they've seen a grateful person who has embraced this second chance.

"I'm just happy that I have a job, and I'm thankful for this organization for allowing me to be part of this team," Hill said. "When you don't have football, you realize that you took it for granted. It's something I love."

Hill has been productive, recording 25 tackles and delivered a clutch, game-changing play with a 44-yard interception return for a touchdown during a pivotal Nov. 24 win over the New Orleans Saints. Hill instinctively undercut a pass thrown by Drew Brees intended for tight end Jimmy Graham.

"The Will Hill I've gotten to know has been through a lot, and he's been a true professional here," running back Justin Forsett said. "All that time he had by himself during that suspension, Will was sweating to make himself better. He's been good for us."

Talent and character

Hill's talent hasn't ever been in question. At 6 feet 1 and 207 pounds, he's tall, rangy and hard-hitting. With the Giants last season, Hill had 77 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles as one of the highest-ranked safeties in the NFL.

Hill was a blue-chip recruit at St. Peter's Prep in Jersey City, N.J., and an All-American player before signing with Florida.

With the Gators, though, Hill was suspended for violating team rules by being out after curfew. It became well-known at the university that Hill smoked marijuana, a subject broached often in interviews with teams at the 2011 NFL scouting combine.

Due to character questions, Hill went undrafted in 2011 after declaring early for the draft.

Hill's Twitter account, now a place where he posts upbeat, team-oriented messages, raised eyebrows with NFL teams. The account featured an avatar photo of Hill posing shirtless while standing behind two women in bikinis and included crude, sexually explicit messages about women, prostitutes and drug use. Hill insisted his account was hacked, but NFL teams weren't convinced.

"That Twitter stuff did a lot of damage to me," Hill said. "People were complimenting me on the job I did with Twitter now, but then somebody said, 'But you did this back then,' and brought up the past.

"People are going to judge you, no matter what. Being a No. 1 athlete in high school, people threw sticks and stones. They want to be where you are. I guess they don't like their life."

Hill has had several problems off the field, including legal issues. He was arrested in 2011 in Florida for driving with a suspended license, was arrested last year for non-payment of child support in New Jersey, went through a divorce and has fathered four children with three women.

After a stint with the Arizona Rattlers in the Arena Football League, Hill was signed by the Giants to a minimum contract in 2012 that included no guaranteed money.

Hill's family has been supportive throughout his travails. His older brother, Lance, has lived with him since he signed with the Ravens. The entire family visited for Thanksgiving, with Hill's mother whipping up yams, his favorite side dish.

"It's all the things he's been through," Lance Hill said in telephone interview. "He's held himself accountable, no excuses. I'm real proud of him right now. I've definitely seen a lot of maturity. I've been there for pretty much his whole maturation process.

"He's come a long way. He taking everything seriously now. From the outside looking in, it's easy to make assumptions about him. I always tell him, 'Don't let another person's perspective be your reality.'"

Lance Hill said the Ravens, including coach John Harbaugh, have been inclusive of him and his brother and have taken the time to get to know them on a personal level.

"They've been real receptive of us, I've talked to coach Harbaugh personally, he's a stand-up guy," Lance Hill said. "People have looked past mistakes and see that Will's a human being. They recognize the talent and they haven't been too judgmental of the past.

"I always told Will the toughest things to deal with in life are adversity and prosperity. As a 24-year-old, he's been through both. He's sacrificed a lot in terms of letting go of any bad influences. It's evolution. You have to evolve for the better."

Determined to avoid trouble

Growing up in a rough neighborhood in East Orange, N.J., the hometown of late singer Whitney Houston, singer Lauryn Hill and rapper and actress Queen Latifah, Hill said he was determined to avoid trouble. His parents sent him to Catholic school in Jersey City to try to give him a chance at a better future.

"East Orange is so gang-affiliated and territorial you have to wear neutral colors because it's so hectic," Hill said. "East Orange has a worse rep than Camden right now. It's one of the worst places in New Jersey.

"A lot of my friends are either in jail or dead. I avoided that by my parents getting me into St. Peter's. Otherwise, I'd probably be a statistic right now."

Hill is establishing himself on a defense in need of someone capable of making an impact in the deep middle. The Ravens have lacked a playmaking presence at safety since Ed Reed left following Super Bowl XLVII.

"Will's getting better every game," defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "He's new to the system, but you can tell things are coming easier for him. He understands it more. He's always been great in the classroom, even when he wasn't playing. I'm real pleased with where he is."

This isn't the first time that Hill has proclaimed himself a changed man. He's aware it's hard to get people to look beyond his checkered past. A pending free agent, Hill is hoping to sign a long-term contract with the Ravens.

"I'm still very young," Hill said. "I got caught up in a lifestyle before, but I'm accountable now and do things differently. I'd love to sign back here, especially with the history and tradition of the Ravens. I'm very thankful to them."

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