Defensive back Josh Hill joined Cal for spring practices earlier this year -- in shorts and a T-shirt, watching from the sidelines.

It bothered him every day, but he knew he couldn't blame anyone or anything else for his problem.

Hill was temporarily removed from the team after having multiple semesters with a grade-point average below 2.0. Despite saying "school has never been hard for me," Hill acknowledged he didn't take academics seriously enough and allowed himself to be put in that position.

So Hill spent last semester off scholarship, taking classes at Laney and College of Alameda to restore his eligibility. He came to Cal's spring practices only as a spectator.

"I wasn't taking (school) seriously at all," said Hill, a junior from Houston. "I was just trying to get by, get my C's, D's, just stay eligible. It caught up with me."

Hill is back in good standing and having a solid training camp. He is a top candidate to be the Bears' nickel back, and teammates and coaches say his spring experience has turned him into one of the Bears' top on-field leaders.

"He's really turned into a leader for this team. He's grown up a lot," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "There's much more gratitude to be here. Sometimes it takes something getting taken away to really appreciate to be here and be with your teammates and have the things you have. That's what happened to him."


Advertisement

Hill said he initially had trouble paying his rent after having his scholarship removed. But he eventually landed a job as a security guard at a nightclub to help pay for school and rent, in addition to getting financial help from his family.

"It was tough, not being on scholarship, not being part of the team, not being able to do anything with the team," Hill said. "It was just not wanting to do (schoolwork), having that mentality that I'm just going to play football. I had that feeling of entitlement that we all have as athletes. I had to change that up and get on the right path."

Hill hopes that path will result in regular playing time. He started nine games at safety last season before losing his job to Sean Cattouse. But he still was the team's nickel back and remained on the field a lot.

Senior D.J. Campbell has joined Cattouse as starting safeties this season, but with the growing number of teams playing spread offenses in the Pac-12, Hill still could get on the field often.

"I don't think anyone could have handled it better than he did. He stayed positive," Cattouse said. "He has a lot of respect from the guys on the team. He's one of the big-time leaders on the team as far as work ethic and setting standards about the way we do things as a team. He's definitely a big piece of our team."

  • The Bears on Friday practiced at Evans Diamond, home of the Cal baseball team. The Bears did so to become accustomed to playing on infield dirt, something they will face at AT&T Park this season.