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With the help of ballet, Terps cornerback Alvin Hill's play becomes on pointe

Maryland cornerback Alvin Hill is raising his game — in black ballet slippers.

Alvin Hill's mother was not surprised when the senior cornerback told her over the summer about one of the courses he planned to take this fall at Maryland.

His 19-year-old sister, Tiffany, had a different reaction.

"I told my mom and she said, 'That's my Alvin,' " Hill recalled recently. "She's used to me doing things out of the ordinary. She wasn't shocked. But my little sister was like: 'Ballet? What are you doing?' "

For 75 minutes every Tuesday and Thursday morning, Hill attends Collette Krogol's Ballet I class (DANC228) in a dance studio at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.

One of two males in a class of 15 students, Hill is the first football player Krogol can remember taking ballet in the three years she has taught at Maryland and her one at Florida.

"Ballet is an extremely athletic sport unto itself. It's about knowing where every part of the body is at all times," Krogol said in an interview last week. "This translates well to a football player like Alvin, giving him more tools and a greater awareness of space with his body and where his body is in connection to time, gravity, effort and movement."

Krogol said that in playing a position such as cornerback, Hill "needs to react on the field to the fastest athletes. To have that reaction time and to have that movement on that scale, he now has that toolbox where he can move with efficiency quicker and jump higher, or he can slow down to meet that athlete on the field."

Hill's interest in signing up for Krogol's ballet course began when he took a yoga course she taught in the spring. Several friends and teammates had recommended he take yoga after he suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2014.

His comeback had been slow, and Hill had failed to regain the starting position he had before getting hurt. After returning last season, Hill played mostly as a backup and on special teams.

"It was tough, but I just stayed focused," he said. "I had a goal in mind, and I kept aiming for that. I just did some things I haven't done before to get to this place I haven't been."

After Hill registered for the class, the hardest part was summoning the courage to go to a local store and purchase ballet slippers.

"I tried to feel a little like I was masculine," Hill said with a laugh. "But the more I walked in, I started to deflate. I just said, 'Just give me the shoes, the black [ones].' I didn't want to mix the colors or anything."

Even knowing the slippers were listed as unisex didn't help. "They still look like girl's shoes," he said.

Some of the anxiety was eased when Bryce Bevill, Maryland's director of player development, showed Hill a tape of NFL Hall of Famers Lynn Swann and Barry Sanders doing ballet.

"You always hear about things that can make yourself better," Hill said. "I took it and ran with it. I started looking up ballet [on the internet]. Coach Bevill showed me a video, and I took heed to it."

Less than a month into the class, Hill had seen the benefits.

"Yesterday, I felt like I was floating when I was running," he said a couple of weeks ago. "I felt fast. I feel like it translates to explosive jumps and injury prevention. Just feeling more fluid when I'm moving."

In a much-improved secondary bolstered by the recent addition of sophomore transfer JC Jackson, Hill has played solidly for undefeated Maryland (3-0). He has seven tackles, including four in a 30-24 double-overtime win at Central Florida on Sept 17. Hill's tipped pass against Florida International the week before led to a 14-yard interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr.

Krogol said that along with trying to improve Hill's footwork, some of the exercises "translate to the idea of team." Movements are done in unison with others', as often happens on the field.

"It helps him in understanding himself and being responsible for himself and how he's executing the movement," Krogol said. "But also recognizing that there's all these other people moving around him, and how does he navigate the space to be able to move through the vocabulary that I'm asking him to."

Krogol is hoping Hill becomes a trendsetter for other Maryland athletes. When he first walked into the studio where Krogol's class was held, Hill could tell that his classmates were not expecting to see the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Miami native join them.

"I think they were shocked," he said. "I'm a lot bigger than … everybody."

Hill has received some good-natured ribbing from his teammates, but that is nothing new.

"They clown me about everything," Hill said. "Just putting ballet on the repertoire, they just clown me about that, too. It doesn't matter really. It's cool."

The Terps play Purdue (2-1) in their Big Ten Conference opener Saturday, a test for their defensive backfield. Boilermakers quarterback David Blough is tied for third nationally in interceptions (seven) but is second in the league in passing yards per game (315.3). Another kind of test will come at the end of the semester, when Hill plans to invite his teammates to a 10-minute ballet performance.

"I think they'll record and post it," he said, "and have it to say something about."

don.markus@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sportsprof56

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