Why Michigan football's Daxton Hill doesn't regret passing on Alabama

Rainer Sabin
Detroit Free Press

More than two years have passed since Daxton Hill made a last-minute decision to play for Michigan football.

The former five-star safety from Tulsa, Oklahoma, is still a member of the Wolverines, in case anybody’s wondering.

Some have contemplated why that is while speculating about Hill’s future with a program that has endured constant upheaval in the last six months. Hill’s father, Derrick, understands that. He even fielded questions about that very topic the other day.

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“Is Dax leaving Michigan?” an old acquaintance asked him.

“No," Derrick responded, “he is not.”

“I have had reporters ask me that,” Derrick went on to say. “They heard words and chatter he may transfer out. That never crossed his mind.”

Then he paused.

Michigan defensive back Daxton Hill attempts to get a ball away from Hoosiers running back Sampson James during the second half of U-M's 38-21 loss on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Bloomington, Indiana.

“It may have crossed his mind,” he said.

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It would be perfectly reasonable if it had. Since enrolling at Michigan in 2019, Hill has been confronted with a slew of challenges, including the disappointment of this past season. But nothing has been as hard as dealing with the revolving door of assistants who have presided over his position group. After another staff shakeup last weekend, Jim Harbaugh installed Ron Bellamy as the safeties coach. He’ll be the fifth assistant to serve in that role since Hill has been on campus.

After taking cues from Chris Partridge at the outset of his career, Hill has spent the last 13 months playing under Bob Shoop, Aashon Larkins, George Helow and now Bellamy. Shoop never served in an on-field capacity this past season and Larkins, a special teams and defensive analyst, filled in on a temporary basis before Helow was hired in January. The most recent change in leadership, which came out of the blue, happened so suddenly the Hill family hadn’t even discussed it with their son as of Tuesday afternoon.

But now Hill will be taught by Bellamy, a first-time college assistant.

“I think he has taken it so far as a microcosm of life,” Derrick said. “That’s how life is. Sometimes things are smooth going and sometimes there are transitional moments in life. So he’s kind of looked at it like that as far as being a part of a microcosm of life and how do I fit into that because the question was with all of the changes and the loss of games was would he jump ship and am I leaving. Most people say I am getting out of here. But for him, he was like, I am staying where I have been playing. How can I grow and learn from this and mature and make it to the next level?”

Michigan Wolverines defensive back Daxton Hill (30) intercepts a pass intended for Rutgers running back Isaih Pacheco during the third overtime at SHI Stadium, Nov. 22. 2020.

The NFL, of course, is on Hill’s mind. Since 2019, his brother, Justice, has been a running back for the Baltimore Ravens, where Harbaugh’s brother, John, is the head coach. Hill bet on Michigan when he chose the Wolverines over Alabama, the school to which he was committed until he flipped during the early signing period in December 2018.

The move then was considered a surprise. Alabama was on its way to another national title game appearance and Hill was viewed as yet another potential star defensive back who would play for Nick Saban, the celebrated coach and renowned guru of the secondary. Since 2014, seven Crimson Tide defensive backs have been drafted within the first two rounds, including safeties Xavier McKinney, Landon Collins and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

As Alabama rolled to yet another College Football Playoff national championship this past season, Michigan encountered one trial after another — stumbling to a 2-4 record and weathering a prolonged shutdown due to COVID-19. While struggles on and off the field unfolded, the roster began to thin. Since September, 10 scholarship players at Michigan have entered the NCAA transfer portal, including starting quarterback Joe Milton and high-profile running back Zach Charbonnet.

But Hill has remained steadfast in his commitment to Michigan.

“You have to be ready for change,” his mother Tia said. “Stay diligent and consistent.”

That’s been a challenge in such a volatile environment. This past season, after former defensive coordinator Don Brown claimed Hill may be “the best cover guy” in the Big Ten, the adverse circumstances around him appeared to affect his performance. Although he finished second on the team in tackles with 46 stops, he produced only one interception while supporting a patchwork secondary populated by a combination of inexperienced and underperforming cornerbacks. Targeted 24 times, Hill surrendered 13 completions for 181 yards, according to Pro Football Focus.

Michigan defensive back Daxton Hill breaks up a pass to Michigan State receiver Cody White during the first half Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019 at Michigan Stadium.

The hope is that his output will improve with the installation of a new scheme under Brown’s replacement, Mike MacDonald. According to Tia, Hill is excited about the prospect of the “chess pieces” being moved around on defense that will accentuate the individual players’ strengths.

Yes, Tia acknowledged, Hill seems willing to embrace more change.

After all, it’s what he’s become accustomed to since arriving in Ann Arbor.

“He still has enjoyed the experience and we want him to finish out that experience,” Derrick said. “That’s his focus. He wants to stay on the positive side and realize that better days are coming. He wants to be a part of it. “

Contact Rainer Sabin at rsabin@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @RainerSabin. Read more on the Michigan Wolverines, Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Big Ten newsletter