Khalid Hill cried during Michigan’s final home game last year.
At that point, he didn’t know if he’d declare for the NFL Draft or return for his final season at Michigan.
A presentation — with fittingly emotional music — put together by photographer David Turnley on the big screen didn’t help matters, either.
But Hill came back. Now the fifth-year senior fullback is staring, with 100 percent certainty, at what will be his last game at Michigan Stadium. His mom, brother, high school coach and close friend Desmond King will all be in attendance. There’s a sense of finality that wasn’t quite there last year, even when all families of fourth and fifth-year players went through a pre-game ceremony.
The stakes are higher, too. Last year’s senior day game was against Indiana. This year’s is against the team that everyone comes to Ann Arbor to play against.
“We need it as a team. We need it as a program,” Hill said. “We haven’t beaten Ohio State in a long time.”
Hill has already noticed a difference in the team’s preparation this week. He called Tuesday one of the best practices “we’ve had in a long time.”
“We were flying around, getting after it,” Hill said. “Guys are putting forth their best effort to help us win, so we’ve got to go out and get this win.”
Hill has had time to be retrospective, as well. He told reporters that he believes his decision to return for one more year worked out.
“I did what I could to help the team,” Hill said. “I put my best effort out there on the field, so I think I accomplished everything I needed to accomplish.”
He also admitted that Saturday’s game will be used “a lot” to gauge how much this young team grew throughout the year.
“… Some of these guys are playing as freshmen, and they’ve got to go through the growing pains to get to where they want to be,” Hill said. “I think that who we are in this last game will show that, even though this team is young, they still can be a great team — and will be a great team down the line.”
While there certainly have been growing pains, 8-3 is still a lot better than where Michigan was just three years ago at the end of Brady Hoke’s tenure. Hill said Tuesday that “nothing was worse” than enduring that 5-7 season, especially with him injured and watching from the sidelines.
“For us to be doing what we are doing, it goes to show that we’re trying to turn a program around and get back to the Michigan way.”
Of course, getting back to the Michigan way entails beating its most-hated rival. And that’s something Hill probably doesn’t need to spend a lot of time thinking over.
“It’d be something special,” Hill said. “Something that hasn’t been accomplished in a long time. To be a part of that team who does it is something big. So we’re just putting forth as much effort as we can to get this win.”