One day last summer, Tyler Hill tagged along with a friend to the Hammer Kicking Academy.
The man who runs the camp, which specializes in place-kicking and punting, looked at Hill and said, “Have you ever thought about long-snapping?”
“I said ‘no,’ ” Hill answered. “And it kind of went from there.”
Where it went was an opportunity to play Division I football at the University of Cincinnati.
Hill, a first-team All-Western New York selection after his senior season at St. Joe’s, is headed to Cincinnati as a preferred walk-on candidate largely due to long-snapping, the specialized task that starts a punt play. He and St. Joe’s celebrated his joining the Cincinnati program with a ceremony at the school on Wednesday, known to college football fans as National Signing Day.
Hill had joined Brandon Belles, a 2013 St. Joe’s graduate who was the Marauders’ punter for several seasons, on the trip to the camp, run by Adam Tanalski.
“He looked at me and said I was the perfect size to be a long snapper,” said the 6-foot-3, 245-pound Hill. “And being a former quarterback, that’s what they look for – arm strength. Mine was average to start, but I’ve picked up and picked up as I trained more and more.”
Hill said special teams coordinator Marc Nudelberg expects Hill to compete for the starting long-snapping spot immediately. “And if I earn it,” Hill said, “I can have a scholarship in January.”
Hill, who played almost every position – from center to quarterback to tight end to defensive line – at St. Joe’s, picked Cincinnati over similar walk-on offers from Maryland and Old Dominion. He also was recruited by Maine at tight end, but the Black Bears called after he had already committed to Cincinnati.
Hill is headed to Division I football because of long-snapping, which he certainly didn’t think would happen before that summer day-camp visit.
“It’s one of those things where I didn’t know if I actually wanted to do that,” Hill said, “but after I learned more and more about it, and once I saw there was an opportunity to play in college, I definitely started to put more work into it.”
Hill did that at the Hammer Kicking Academy. An eye-opening moment came when he joined the Hammer athletes at a camp, and after Hill worked with collegiate punters, they all “were shocked that they never heard of me before,” Hills said. “They said, ‘Take a look at my college.’
“I was like, wow, I’m actually good at this.”
Hill put together two highlight tapes for recruiters, one of him purely long-snapping and one of him in regular high school action.
“Coaches would respond back,” said Hill, who had another watershed moment when Cincinnati made contact with St. Joe’s coach Dennis Gilbert.
Hill is certainly glad he showed up at that camp. “That worked out great,” he said with a laugh.
“I owe almost everything to him,” Hill said of Tanalski, while thanking his coaches and family for their support. “I train with them almost exclusively now. I owe almost everything to him, from getting me started to everything – and I just can’t thank him enough.”
Sisson to Edinboro
There was some significant news on signing day out of Jamestown as record-setting senior quarterback Jake Sisson, The Buffalo News Player of the Year and the winner of the Connolly Cup as Western New York’s most outstanding football player, made his college destination known as he signed with Division II Edinboro (Pa.).
The 6-foot, 180-pound Sisson set Western New York records for passing yards in a game and season; he also set the Section VI championship game passing mark at Ralph Wilson Stadium as the Red Raiders won the Class AA title over Frontier.
He chose the Fighting Scots over walk-on offers from the University at Buffalo and Eastern Michigan, an offer from Division II Mercyhurst and several Division III opportunities.
“I chose Edinboro because it was the perfect fit for me, my offense and my major.”
Sisson plans on studying physics.
Signing Day roundup
As is usually the case in Western New York, National Signing Day is one of important ceremonies, albeit without a lot of drama, certainly not the type of suspense that plays itself out on ESPN throughout the day as top recruits unveil their major college destinations.
Western New York’s top local recruit, two-time first-team All-Western New York running back Qadree Ollison of Canisius, made his verbal commitment to Pittsburgh early during the Crusaders’ football season and the 6-foot-1, 220-pounder made it official Wednesday.
Western New York’s only other Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-A) signing is Ollison’s Canisius teammate Augie Touris, who verbally committed to the University of Texas-El Paso last month. The 6-foot-4, 232-pound lineman also made it official Wednesday during a ceremony at the school.
Also part of Canisius’ signing day are a pair of Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) players. Defensive back Ryan Richards, a 6-2, 205-pound second-team All-WNY pick, will commit to Robert Morris; first-team All-WNY selection Mike Sharpe (6-1, 200) announced Wednesday he was accepting a preferred walk-on spot with Furman (S.C.).
Joining Richards in signing with Robert Morris Wednesday morning was Depew lineman Mike Lamb (6-7, 327), a second-team All-WNY pick.
At Alden, senior and first-team All-WNY selection Phil Zobrest, a 6-5, 227-pound defensive end, signed with Holy Cross. First-team All-WNY defensive back/wide receiver Dylan Dussault (6-4, 193) of Alden will sign with Division II Walsh (Ohio).
Another Division II signing has All-WNY second team lineman Steven Stauss (6-5, 300) of Albion headed to Mercyhurst (Pa.).
Other recent Western New York signings in other sports:
• Grand Island track and field standout Jess Dhaliwall, one of the best shot putters in the country, signed with the University at Buffalo Wednesday.
• I-Prep at Grover Cleveland will hold a ceremony today for All-Western New York first-team boys soccer player Ezana Kahsay, who will sign with Akron.
• Lockport soccer player Isaiah Barrett will sign with Binghamton.
• Division I athletes from Williamsville South signing Wednesday: girls soccer’s Carissima Cutrona (Colgate), field hockey’s Mia Martin (Northeastern) and track and field’s Carolyn Hopkins (Elon) and Devon Patterson (UB).
• Also part of Wednesday’s ceremony at Canisius was soccer player Jake Montante, who signed with Canisius College.
• On Thursday, Kenmore East track and field standout Erin O’Brien signed with Edinboro.
The News will soon compile its “Class of 2014” list of athletes who will compete in college (at any level). Please send information on signings (that have not already been published) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday night’s PrepTalkTV episode featured interviews with representatives from Canisius and St. Joe’s hockey.
The two teams will play twice in 10 days, first in their regular season finale 1 p.m. Sunday at Buffalo State, and then in the Monsignor Martin Association’s Niagara Cup semifinals at Niagara University at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18. Watch it at BuffaloNews.com.