By Jeff Nations - email@example.com
WINCHESTER -- Liam "LA" St. Hill never wavered after making the decision to focus on soccer, but as his years on the pitch piled up he couldn't help but wonder once in a while.
Had he, in fact, picked the right "football" after all?
St. Hill had been forced to make a choice when he started attending high school at Maryland's Bishop McNamara. In Maryland, the soccer and football seasons are both played in the fall.
"I was real small in high school, so I decided to play soccer," St. Hill said. "Then as the years went on, I grew to be 6-2. It was kind of like, 'I should've played football.' But I didn't regret playing soccer."
It wasn't the wrong choice, judging by his success on the soccer field. The Upper Marlboro, Md., resident saw regular time as a forward during all four seasons of eligibility at Shenandoah. He broke into the Hornets' starting lineup full-time as a junior, and maintained that as a senior by starting 13 of the 14 games he played in last year. St. Hill capped his career by earning a spot on the USA South Conference All-Sportsmanship team.
The thing was, St. Hill still had two semesters to go to complete his undergraduate degree in Kinesiology. He also had a semester of eligibility remaining to compete in collegiate athletics.
For St. Hill, it was an opportunity to answer that nagging question. After consulting with Shenandoah's football coaching staff, St. Hill landed a chance to find out this year.
"I was always close to the football coaches, and they were always telling me to come out," St. Hill said. "But I figured I've already started [soccer], so I'm going to finish it.
"It's always something I've wanted to do. I'm just getting back used to it. I'm working on hitting and stuff. Other than that, it's pretty natural."
Listed at 6-2 and 180 pounds, St. Hill has made remarkable progress since joining the football program last spring. He's currently listed as a second-string cornerback on the Hornets' depth chart, with likely opportunities to play in nickel-package situations as well. And St. Hill is on virtually all of Shenandoah's special teams units -- just not where you'd think a former soccer player might make an impact. St. Hill can't help but roll his eyes a bit at the assumption -- no, he's not a place kicker.
"I get that question a lot," St. Hill said. "They never asked me -- well, they asked me earlier, as a joke. I mean, I'd do it if they asked me to. Nobody's ever asked me that."
St. Hill had a steep learning curve when he joined the Hornets in the spring. He hadn't played organized football since age 13, and at times it showed a lot.
"To watch myself grow between spring ball and now, I have definitely matured playing cornerback," St. Hill said. "When I first came out, I thought I knew how to backpedal -- I didn't. I thought I knew how to break -- I didn't. Those were definitely things I had to work on in the summer."
St. Hill immersed in football during the summer months, working with his new teammates on technique and skills -- former SU standout wide receiver Rico Wallace, in town for a few days during the summer after rookie training camp with the NFL's Carolina Panthers, spent time teaching St. Hill the drills he'd observed cornerbacks taking part in at camp.
St. Hill admits that this past summer was the hardest he's ever worked out.
"It's not that I didn't work hard before, but this year I felt like I was at the bottom of the depth chart, whereas in soccer I already knew I was a starting player," St. Hill said. "So yeah, I worked, but I didn't really feel threatened at that point, either.
"I'm not really used to sitting on the bench in any sport. I've always played sports, and I've never sat on the bench. So I figured I needed to work hard in the weight room, go out and run more, get in shape and get ready to be physical."
Shenandoah defensive coordinator Brock McCullough witnessed St. Hill's transformation first-hand over the summer.
"We're happy to have him," McCullough said. "He's tall, athletic, a very rangy kid. He still needs some work in the tackling aspect of things, which is what you'd expect. But his work ethic is outstanding. He asks good questions. He was in here all summer for an hour every day, watching film on his own."
St. Hill knows he's still a work in progress. The constant contact in football is still something he's growing accustomed to, but it's coming along. St. Hill expects to be on the field for the Hornets this year, making an impact in his long-lost sport.
"Once I get that down, I feel like I'll be good," St. Hill said of hitting. "I feel very comfortable in coverages, knowing the plays and all that. I feel like I have the speed and length to cover very well, but I have to say -- just coming up and hitting, I'm not scared to hit, but I just really don't know how to and I'm getting back into it. Once I get that down pat, I think I'll be great."