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August 8, 2010

Is Hill the next great Florida safety?

FALL PRACTICE COVERAGE: Moody healthy, focused on 2010 | Azzanni talks receiver corps | Practice Notes & Quotes | Q&A with Brian White | Thompson ready to step up | Pouncey plans to lead with words, actions | Hunter's in shape, ready to roll | Urban's Overview: Player to transfer | UF focused, not fractured | Thursday Notebook: A new beginning | Florida's top gun | Practice breakdown | Preseason Superlatives

After shining as a true freshman on special teams and in the secondary, many expected Will Hill to be the next star in the secondary at Florida.

But after a lackluster sophomore season in which Hill himself admitted that he took some plays off, those expectations were put on hold.

On Friday morning, Florida co-defensive coordinator Chuck Heater said that Hill has gotten back on track.

"We've had a lot of great safeties at Florida," he said. "He's the next guy."

Hill, now a 6-foot-1, 207-pound junior, arrived at Florida as the top safety in the nation and one of the top 10 players in the country.

After racking up 48 tackles and two interceptions and being named to the All-SEC freshman team in 2008, Hill seemed to be on his well on his way to taking over a starting safety spot.

But last season he split time with safeties Ahmad Black and Major Wright and never made the type of impact he needed to win a full-time starting role. While he was still a key piece on defense, his big-play ability disappeared.

With Wright now in the NFL, Heater expects that to change as Hill takes on a starting role at safety.

"His play as a freshman was great," Heater said. "He played some of both positions last year. This is the year that he steps up and is the next great safety at Florida."

Playing alongside Black has given Hill the opportunity to learn and grow as both a playmaker and leader.

It's a role he's trying to step into this year after admitting that he didn't put forth his best effort last season.

"I was lazy," Hill said Thursday. "This summer and this whole offseason, that's what I've been working on. Not being lazy. Not having my coaches chasing after me telling me when to go hard."

Hill's play will be instrumental in the secondary. With the Gators having to replace All-American cornerback Joe Haden and their top two pass rushers from a year ago, teams are likely to test Florida through the air this season.

He knows that he bears the responsibility for how the secondary performs, particularly as he might have to slide over in coverage for the new cornerback at times.

Hill said he's confident that whoever steps into the open spot at cornerback will play well.

"Jeremy Brown is back healthy," he said. "We got Moses Jenkins. Ever since the spring, he's been phenomenal."

In fact, he even said that he expects the secondary to surprise some people with its ability.

"I think the secondary is going to be as good or better than last year," he said. "If one person gets a pick, another one's gonna get a pick. We have a lot of great talent."

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