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SIU head football coach Nick Hill in his office at the Boydston Center.

Sure, Nick Hill is one of the youngest head coaches in collegiate football at age 31. Certainly he leads the football program at his alma mater where he was one of the most prolific passing quarterbacks, leading the Southern Illinois Salukis to three playoff wins and a place in the national semifinals. And while he even has six years of professional football experience, he considers himself no better than anyone else.

“I am just a regular guy from Southern Illinois,” he says. “I don’t need much more than that or need recognition or accolades. We’re all the same. Yes, I’m going to try to be a leader, but I was brought up to stay grounded and keep things in perspective.”

Hill often reflects on growing up in Du Quoin and the qualities of humility, hard work, faith and family. He says all of them envelope his approach to football.

“We all have a higher calling and there are more important things in life,” he explains. “We have to have a balance and know that we are playing a game. At the same time we have to do everything we can to prepare this team the best we can and then go out there and play. The outcome is going to come -- good or bad. Regardless, we can go to bed every night knowing that we have done our best. That way there are no regrets because those are the things that keep you up at night: the 'shouldas,' 'wouldas' and 'couldas.'”

Preparing means lots of long hours, especially during the football season. Hill says coaches often work until 10:30 p.m. or later on Sundays and arrive at the team offices before 6:30 a.m. on Mondays. Still, the intense schedule does not take away from a focus on family. The coach has declared an hour of office time on Sunday evenings as “family time,” and staff members’ spouses and children — including Hill’s wife, Alicia, and daughter, Skylar — are encouraged to join them for dinner and a break from film study and game preparations. He says that family time is important to both immediate families and the much larger Saluki Football family.

“We like to think our family is part of this much larger family,” Hill explains, opening his arms wide as to encompass all 105 student-athletes on the team. “I told our staff when we started that I wanted all of our guys to know your kids’ names and to see you with your children. I want them to know what kind of dad you are. I want them to see you as a husband, because they need that. A lot of our guys grew up without dads. They need to see what it really means when we tell them to be a man — it’s not just something that happens on the football field.”

He adds that in some ways that is as important as wins and losses.

“Obviously we want to win football games. I love this game, but more than that, I love having a relationship with these guys and seeing them grow as people. Getting to see them change and mature, to watch them become young men, that’s why we coach college football.”

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