Though having a team-high eight touchdowns isn’t too shabby, one doesn’t need to look at a stat sheet to see that redshirt junior fullback Khalid Hill is happy with his new job.
The proof is on teammate David Dawson’s Twitter.
Sunday morning — just 12 hours after the Michigan football team thrashed Rutgers, 78-0, and Hill added three more touchdowns to his total — Dawson tweeted that Hill was in such a good mood that he had started loudly calling himself “the hammering panda.”
It’s an unusual nickname, to be sure, but it just about sums up Hill’s role for the Wolverines this season — a role he’s tackled better than anyone could have expected. A former tight end who hadn’t carried the ball since he was 10 years old, Hill has become Michigan’s main goal-line option, punching in seven touchdowns in six games and adding a receiving score Saturday.
In terms of yardage, he’s not lighting up box scores. He has just 21 total rushing yards, which amounts to 1.6 yards per carry. But when Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is inside the five-yard line, he loves to turn to his fullback, and that’s where Hill has shined. He has five one-yard touchdowns, one two-yarder and one four-yarder. He also has yet to be tackled for a loss.
Going into the game with the sole responsibility of picking up one yard doesn’t sound like the most glamorous job in the world, but Hill has embraced it wholeheartedly. As a result, he’s reached the end zone more times than all but 14 players in the country.
“I’m very confident,” Hill said. “I feel like that’s my job, especially when we get to the goal-line area. Coach Harbaugh calls my number, (and) if he does, it’s my job to roll in there and get that one yard. It’s what I do.”
A year ago, this kind of success didn’t seem possible for Hill. He appeared in 12 of the Wolverines’ 13 games, but he was a third or fourth tight end playing behind All-American and current senior Jake Butt. Hill did have eight career catches for 108 yards, but through two years of semi-regular playing time, he had never even scored a touchdown.
Hill started making the full-time transition to fullback in the spring, and he has even impressed his teammates with how quickly he has come along.
“That’s still a big adjustment — switching positions, learning the new technique, learning the new assignment,” Butt said. “So for Khalid to step in and have the season that he’s doing, I just want to give props to him, because a fullback — that’s a position that’s not really glorified too often. You’re kind of just bloodying your nose a little bit, trying to create seams for the running backs. When he’s got his opportunities, he’s made the absolute most of them, so that’s awesome to see.”
The blocking part of the game has been there, too. Last week, running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley set a goal for his running backs to break 300 yards against the Scarlet Knights. The running backs responded that they would shoot for 500.
Behind stalwart play from Hill and the offensive line against an overmatched Rutgers defense, the backs almost met their lofty goal. The running game piled up 481 yards and tied a team record with nine touchdowns — of course, including two one-yard runs from Hill.
Before the season, Hill couldn’t have imagined he would be putting up these kinds of numbers. But he’s not the type to shy away from his responsibilities, and so the panda hammers on.
“I’d have said you’re lying, to be honest, for real,” Hill said. “It’s a blessing (that) Coach Harbaugh put me in the situation that I am today, for him to trust me the way that he does and call my number when he needs me the most. I kind of take it personally to make sure, when my number is called, to get it done.”