Weber State transfers can help Jay Hill’s defense

Hill keeps taking transfers from Weber State. Those who played for him in Ogden believe it’s about trust in a complicated scheme.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jay Hill at BYU football practice in Provo on Monday, March 6, 2023.

Provo • Marque Collins nearly left with Jay Hill the first time around.

In December of 2022, when Hill resigned as Weber State’s head football coach and bolted to become BYU’s defensive coordinator, Collins considered following his head coach. He was going into his final season in Ogden anyway. Two of his defensive backfield teammates, Kamden Garrett and Eddie Heckard, were heading to Provo.

Why not him, too?

“It was a heavy thought,” Collins said. “It was really one of those talks with my teammates, like ‘What are your plans?’”

Collins ultimately stayed one more year at Weber — a chance to run it back after a 10-win season. But when the NCAA Transfer Portal opened again this offseason, he didn’t think twice.

Like his fellow Weber State teammate Jack Kelly — who also stayed back for another year — Collins left for BYU this winter.

It continued an early trend in Hill’s transfer portal strategy: bringing his former players back to play for him at BYU.

Since Hill arrived in Provo, four of his 12 defensive transfers have come from Weber State. This offseason, Hill took three transfers. Two, Collins and Kelly, were from Weber.

To Collins, this isn’t merely a coincidence. This is about trust. Hill’s defensive schemes are notoriously complicated — running everything from cover one to cover four with intricate blitz packages. Hill’s former Weber State players have run the system for years.

Plus, Hill’s schemes put an extreme amount of pressure on the corners to make plays. If they miss tackles or blow coverages, there isn’t much help behind them.

Three of Hill’s Weber State transfers have played corner. Heckard was listed as a safety, but lined up at nickel too.

“I think that was the big thing in getting Weber State guys here,” Collins said. “Not to show the way [to the other guys], but understand like, ‘OK, we have somebody here you guys can watch if you have any questions.’ He’s bringing to BYU what he wants to instill in the BYU. So he’s not taking it all by himself.”

Hill adamantly refuted the idea he was prioritizing Weber State players in the transfer portal. He also said he didn’t contact any of his former players impermissibly.

“Absolutely not. Just so everyone is straight, I can’t talk to them. I can’t contact them. Nothing,” Hill said. “If the right guys go in the portal, and they are getting looks elsewhere, then I’ve looked at the right guys. There have been a lot of the guys who have gone in the portal and they are not the right fit here. Or we are not taking that position group.”

Hill did say that each Weber transfer he’s brought to Provo has helped his defense. Heckard was his best player last year.

Both Collins and Kelly spoke about the benefit of having been in Hill’s system before and playing for their former coach.

Kelly is a linebacker who registered 10.5 sacks last year. He thought about coming with Hill to BYU in 2023, just like Collins. But he was younger and wanted to play a full season off the defensive line.

Now, he comes to Provo already knowing Hill’s scheme. Hill can plug and play him at multiple linebacker spots and edge. Traditionally, that could take months to master. It’s a luxury for Hill, who can use Kelly nearly anywhere to bolster a poor pass rush. BYU ranked 131st in the country in getting to the quarterback last year.

“I have kind of been playing outside and inside [linebacker],” since arriving in Provo, Kelly said. “They have also talked a little bit about edge.”

When Collins looked back at how difficult Hill’s system is to learn, he laughed at a story from his freshman season. He was a wide receiver in high school and Hill moved him over to corner almost immediately.

After a month, Collins was struggling. He didn’t understand his assignments. He didn’t understand the overall scheme of the defense. So he went into Hill’s office and nearly gave up.

“I was like, ‘I’m not having fun,’” Collins remembered saying. “It’s that simple. I’m not having fun with it. And he told me, ‘If you don’t know what you are doing, you are not going to have fun.’”

Collins spent weeks going into Hill’s office to watch game film. That was just to get comfortable. A general command took even longer.

And that is what BYU’s defense, now in year two of Hill’s direction, is collectively going through. A few Weber State transfers are helping ease that transition.

It’s the key Hill is banking on.

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