By LUKE JOHNSON
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
In sports, the word legacy needs to go the way of the dinosaur.
It’s a pointless crutch, a Skip Bayless special that sparks hours of meaningless banter. Nevertheless it inevitably finds its way to seep into the discussion.
We are constantly looking for the next great thing, speeding at breakneck speed toward defining what one play, one game, one season, one career means for the next generation. Our thirst to define things in this context causes us to sometimes move so fast that the thing we are trying to define is already lost in pursuit of the next great thing.
It spawns the inane, like dubbing a singular play a "Heisman moment” immediately after it happens without regard to what may come on the next play, the next game. It causes some to wonder, in the moment, how a fourth-quarter interception, missed tackle or muffed punt affects how that player’s name will be recalled years later. All in the sake of laying the groundwork for a legacy that may never come to fruition.
But LSU running back Jeremy Hill thinks about his legacy. Not necessarily his legacy on the football field, where his smooth yet powerful running style led him to total the second-best single-season yardage total in LSU history with 1,401 rushing yards, but how people will choose to define him when he eventually decides to leave Baton Rouge for the NFL.
Is he Jeremy Hill, good teammate, good student, good person, great football player? Or is he Jeremy Hill, ruthless monster who lucked his way back on the field?
Talk of legacy is not pointless to Hill. He is genuinely concerned about whether his name, his image, was irreparably tarnished when he cold-cocked an intoxicated bar patron in a parking lot after the conclusion of spring practice this year.
Undoubtedly you’ve seen the video. The courageous feats of brute strength Hill showed on the field in his freshman season quickly turned into something ugly. He was a brute on that night in Tigerland. It didn’t matter what was said or done that caused Hill to sneak up behind Connor Baldridge and sucker punch him, it looked bad.
It looked bad when Hill celebrated, laughing and high-fiving, over Baldridge’s unconscious body on the pavement.
Bad enough to cause some to forever look at Hill as nothing more than a common thug.
On the surface it looked like the tired old story that has played out too many times: Talented but troubled athlete can’t handle the trappings of success when off the field. Rather than lose himself and spin deeper into the web of trouble, Hill grasped that he had been given one more chance than many get.
"I learned that I need to do the things that I need to do, which means being around the right people,” Hill said. "That’s the biggest thing that I’ve done this last year, separating myself from people that are going to bring me down, people that are not going the same direction as me. I’ve surrounded myself with people that have the same goal in mind as me.
"I think doing that over the last seven months has completely changed the way people look at me and the perception of me.”
The fact that Hill even got another chance to turn his life around at LSU in itself was hotly debated.
Maybe it was because of the fact that his talent was too great to keep off the football field. Many made subtle accusations that Hill was given a lenient verdict in the case because the judge was an LSU alumnus. LSU coach Les Miles was widely mocked because he let the team decide whether or not Hill would be reinstated, a vote that would obviously go in Hill’s favor (though if you believe for one second Hill’s reinstatement was entirely up to the team I’d like to talk to you about my prince uncle in Nigeria that will make you a billionaire for a small fee).
That doesn’t change what happened. Hill served his suspension – which lasted all of five quarters – and made his way back to the football field, where he has been phenomenal.
Hill’s 1,401 rushing yards were the second-best total in the Southeastern Conference. His 216 rushing yards in the Outback Bowl were the most by an LSU player since Alley Broussard’s 250 yards against Ole Miss in 2004. Hill was so good, he’ll likely earn a fat paycheck from an NFL squad if he chose to leave for the NFL after two seasons, even with his dubious off the field record.
As of the latest report, Hill is leaning toward coming back to LSU for another year. He likes it here, it’s where he grew up – both as a child, and as a man who learned hard life lessons. But he knows his future is calling at some point in the near future, whether this year or next.
If he would’ve entered the draft, his final play would’ve been a 37-yard touchdown, a display of the quintessential Jeremy Hill blend of power and speed. It’s a fine way to remember Jeremy Hill the football player.
How do we remember Jeremy Hill the person? That remains to be seen, but Hill is hopeful.
His two arrests, one in April of this year for simple battery and another while he was still in high school for carnal knowledge of a juvenile, are simply referred to by Hill as "those events.” He knows that some will never forget his mistakes off the field and he seems fine with that, but he hopes the remainder of his time in Baton Rouge cements others’ memory of him in a positive light.
"The farther I get away from those events, the more people will forgive me for some of the mistakes I’ve had in the past,” Hill said. "Leave a legacy where people will appreciate the things that I’ve done.”