As Ravens rookie cornerback Jaylen Hill was swarmed by reporters in the locker room underneath M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday night, he was also the center of his teammates' attention.
Running back Buck Allen gripped Hill in a bear hug before the group interview began. Outside linebacker Matthew Judon bellowed after the first question that Hill was "da man." And defensive back Lardarius Webb simulated filming the interview with his cellphone before walking away with a grin.
It was the kind of scene any young player seeking to make inroads with his older, more established teammates covets and enjoys. But Hill, who made an interception that led to the Ravens' eventual game-winning touchdown in a 13-9 win against the Buffalo Bills, has proved to be more mature than his age of 23 might suggest.
"It feels good," he said. "But like I said, this is now. I can indulge in the moment now because this is a great moment for my team, but I've got to move on. Things are good right now, but we've got New Orleans [on Thursday night]. So I've got to show up next week."
If there is one member of the undrafted rookie class who appears to be a lock to make the 53-man active roster, it is Hill. (Wide receivers Quincy Adeboyejo and Tim White, inside linebacker Bam Bradley, running back Taquan Mizzell and defensive end Patrick Ricard are also in the conversation.)
Hill has the defense's only two interceptions of the preseason and leads the unit in pass breakups with five. He also has a team-high nine tackles, all solos.
Even before his performance against Buffalo, Hill was making an impression with his teammates on both sides of the ball.
"He's a good player. I really like him," starting cornerback Jimmy Smith said Wednesday. "He's very coachable, and with people going down in the secondary this year, he has a shot at being on the field playing. The biggest thing for him is just making sure he understands the plays and the ins and outs of playing nickel. [It's] fast-paced with the 'ones.' "
"Dude's a beast," wide receiver Chris Matthews said recently. "I like him. He's a young dude, but he's not afraid of competition. He doesn't care who you are, what size you are, or how fast you are. He's going to go out there and play the way he knows how to play and that's good football. We went up against each other today, and I feel like I ran a really good [stop-and-go] route, and he stayed right there with me. I like his confidence. Hopefully, we keep him around because that dude is going to be special."
While Hill's play might be surprising to those around the Ravens, this is the cornerback Owen Kilgore saw daily at Jacksonville State. Kilgore, the cornerbacks coach at the Football Championship Subdivision program, said Hill was a bundle of energy whose intensity was infectious.
"We talk all the time about practice habits, and every rep to him meant so much," Kilgore said. "It was like every day he was competing for the Super Bowl. He didn't take a snap off ever, and he was always the first one to get in line during individual drills. He showed everybody else how to work."
Despite making 13 career interceptions, the most in the school's Division I history, and helping the program capture three consecutive Ohio Valley Conference titles, Hill was bypassed on all 253 picks in April's NFL draft. While Kilgore said Hill "had every bit of what it took to play in the NFL," Hill used the snub as fuel for motivation.
"Yeah, I kind of had a chip because I had to prove myself and let these players know that I could play with them and do the things that the team needs me to do, especially coming from not a lower-level school, but not such a high-ranked school," he said. "It's always good to come in here and prove yourself so that the people around here can see that you play well."
Hill's interception in the third quarter Saturday was the kind of play a savvy veteran would have made. Initially covering tight end Nick O'Leary in the right flat, Hill watched quarterback T.J. Yates tracking wide receiver Philly Brown, who was curling back farther down the right sideline.
Hill then left O'Leary and leaped in front of Yates' pass to Brown and returned the interception 12 yards to the Buffalo 15-yard line. Three plays later, quarterback Josh Woodrum found rookie running back Taquan Mizzell for a 15-yard touchdown catch to give the Ravens a 10-7 lead with 2:49 left in the period.
"I think he has come up with plays," coach John Harbaugh said. "Guys try to find a way to make plays. That's important, and he did it in college. I remember watching him in college — his stats and his tape — and he did just that. To see it translate to this level in preseason is a big plus. I'm happy with him. He's a guy that we have to continue to work with on his technique and the details of the game. He's a young guy, just like any other young player, but he has come up with a big play every game so far."
Despite Harbaugh's compliment, Hill wouldn't say whether he felt he had secured a spot when the team makes final cuts after the final preseason game in New Orleans.
"It's not enough," he said. "There's more I can do on special teams. There's more I can do on the field. That's a good start. I put myself in a good start, but I don't think that's enough."