HARRISONBURG —There’s a good chance that when James Madison opens the football season against Maryland on Aug. 30, it will have two major-conference transfers in the backfield.
Little-used Tennessee freshman tailback Alden Hill confirmed Thursday that he is transferring to JMU, beefing up a backfield that loses 1,000-yard rusher Dae’Quan Scott. He joins former Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee as high-profile newcomers in coach Everett Withers’ first season at Madison.
Hill, a former three-star recruit by Rivals.com and the No. 47 running back in the class of 2012, said he plans to arrive in Harrisonburg on Saturday in preparation for summer classes that begin on Monday.
“I feel like it’s the best thing for me,” Hill said via cellphone. “I couldn’t be more glad to make this decision.”
Withers’ football operations assistant, John Streicher, said Thursday that Hill’s transfer is expected to be official within a few days. Hill, who will be allowed to play immediately under NCAA rules because he is transferring down to Division I-AA, will have three years of eligibility remaining.
The 6-foot-1, 230-pound Hill said he is leaving Tennessee in search of more playing time. After redshirting his first year, he appeared in eight games for the Volunteers in 2013, though with just 10 carries for 58 yards. The highlight of Hill’s season might have come in mid-September when he scored a touchdown in a 59-14 loss to Oregon. But he played mostly on special teams the next few weeks – never getting another carry – and did not appear in Tennessee’s last four games.
Coming out of Marlington High School in Alliance, Ohio, Hill went to Knoxville to play for former Tennessee coach Derek Dooley. Dooley’s firing in November 2012 – and the subsequent hiring of coach Butch Jones – signaled the beginning of the end for Hill at UT.
Tennessee signed three running backs – five-star recruit Jalen Hurd, Derrell Scott and Treyvon Paulk – in its most recent recruiting class.
“The coaches offensively were going in a different direction,” Hill said. “It wasn’t the original staff. I love Tennessee and the place, but it was going in a different direction.”
Tennessee sports information director Jason Yellin said the Southeastern Conference school’s football coaches would not be available for interviews.
Hill said he narrowed his choices to a final three of Fordham, Samford and JMU – all I-AA schools where he would be eligible to play immediately. Apparently, the Dukes won’t have to worry about Hill flashing his SEC credentials.
“I know how it is when guys come in from different levels,” Hill said. “I’m never a high-maintenance guy. I’m humble and I work.”
Hill said he committed to JMU on Tuesday.
Withers, a former co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State under offensive-minded coach Urban Meyer, is bringing a Buckeyes-inspired spread to JMU. In the spring game, Lee estimated that Madison showed about 30 percent of the new offense, geared more toward a mobile quarterback and a power running game.
Hill, a bruising tailback who rushed for a school-record 4,912 yards in high school, could be JMU’s thunder to Lee’s lightning.
“They’re running Ohio State’s offense, more downhill pound the ball,” Hill said. “I feel like that’s what I am. I’m more focused on running downhill and breaking tackles.”
Marlington coach Ed Miley said Hill was one of three D-I recruits at the northern Ohio school during his senior year, joining current Michigan defensive back Dymonte Thomas and Michigan State offensive lineman Zach Higgins.
The artfully tattooed Hill, who announced his intention to transfer from Tennessee in an April 22 Instagram post, was an instant hot commodity. Miley said he fielded almost 70 calls inquiring about Hill, but the tailback’s desire to play immediately narrowed the choices to I-AA schools.
“He didn’t want to have to sit out a year,” said Miley, who noted that Hill split carries with Thomas in high school out of Marlington’s shotgun triple-option offense. “He wanted an opportunity to come in and compete Day One.”
New JMU defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, a graduate assistant under Dooley at Tennessee during Hill’s redshirt season in Knoxville, was another reason the tailback chose Madison. Hill said having Staley, who worked with UT’s special teams and defense, will make the transition smoother to a new school.
Although he said he has no regrets about going to Tennessee, a struggling program during Dooley’s tenure, Hill said JMU is “like a fresh start.”
“He said, I like JMU better than Tennessee,” Miley said.
Withers, with his big-time résumé (including a stint as an NFL assistant and North Carolina’s interim head coach), was also a factor in Hill picking JMU.
“He’s an old-school guy that has a lot of experience; I can tell he’s been coaching a while,” Hill said. “He’s a cool guy, easy to talk to and he has a good vision of what he wants his team to be the next few years.”
Hill is the most high-profile tailback to transfer to Madison since Curtis Keaton, a star for the Dukes in 1998 and 1999, arrived from West Virginia (he was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals and played three years in the NFL with the Bengals and New Orleans Saints).
The Dukes are thin at running back with the departure of Scott. JMU’s roster lists six tailbacks, but only sophomore Khalid Abdullah and senior Jauan Latney received carries in 2013. The Dukes rushed for 172.6 yards per game, sixth-best in the 11-team Colonial Athletic Association.
“If I go in there and compete and do what I’m supposed to, I don’t see why I wouldn’t be a guy or a contributor at that position,” Hill said.