For many fans, there’s a belief that the National Football League is a group full of “chosen ones.”
To the contrary, nearly one-third of players on NFL rosters in 2013 weren’t chosen in the league’s draft.
Former Gophers linebacker Aaron Hill is trying to carve out a spot for himself on the St. Louis Rams’ roster despite going undrafted.
He’s no stranger to skepticism. Hill chose to walk-on at Minnesota and redshirted in 2009. He played for the Gophers for the next four years.
But before Hill was a Gophers starting linebacker and captain, he was a fan of the Rams.
The Missouri native grew up watching “The Greatest Show on Turf” — the nickname of the Rams’ record-breaking offense from 1999 to 2001. At age 9, Hill was in front of his television watching Super Bowl XXXIV between the Rams and the Tennessee Titans.
“I definitely remember it,” he said. “It came down to the last play with [Rams linebacker] Mike Jones. Everybody in St. Louis remembers the game-saving tackle on the 1-yard line.”
Fourteen years later, Hill is competing for a spot with his hometown team.
As a senior in 2013, Hill had two interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, earning him an All-Big Ten honorable mention from the coaches.
Despite that, the 2014 NFL Draft opened and closed without his name called.
However, after the draft concluded, Hill came to an agreement with the Rams.
James Manuel, a former teammate and linebacker who played alongside Hill, said the traits that brought Hill success at Minnesota would translate to the next level.
“He just has ... [an] unbelievable work ethic,” Manuel said. “He’s able to do whatever it takes to get what he wants.”
Hill said he saw some parallels between his beginnings with the Gophers and the Rams.
“I would definitely say it’s a similar situation,” Hill said. “I approach every day [with] the underdog approach … trying to fight your way, compete and do anything you can to earn your spot. Yeah, it is a little bit of déjà vu.”
Hill attended the Rams’ rookie camp in mid-May and has been participating in other organized team activities.
Rams linebackers coach Frank Bush spoke highly of Hill and his acumen.
“Quite frankly, some of these things he’s starting to learn, other kids [on our team] will be asking him at this point,” Bush said.
Bush said there were surprises from Hill physically as well. He said Hill moves around a lot better than what some of the reports had said.
Since the start of rookie camp, Hill’s most evident improvement has been higher confidence levels and proper adjustments to the speed at which NFL veterans play, Bush said.
There is a vacant linebacker spot on the Rams’ roster open to competition. But Bush said if Hill’s chance comes, it’ll be on special teams.
Hill’s awareness at such a young age is a quality that separates him from not only the rookies on this team, but undrafted rookies in Bush’s multi-decade coaching career.
“There’s a level of trust that happens with coaches and players, and he’s developing trust from us,” Bush said. “That trust will give him a little bit more responsibility. It’ll give him an excellent opportunity to make this team.”