(Photo courtesy Florida Sports Information)
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“Cook throws left side and intercepted at the 45! That’ll be a pick-six! Touchdown Florida! Oh, welcome back, Jaydon Hill!”
Gators play-by-play broadcaster Sean Kelley’s call during the Missouri game echoed through the ears of Gator fans listening on the radio. But for Jaydon Hill’s family in attendance, the experience was like no other.
“Our emotions were all over the place. We were excited, tearful,” Jaydon’s mom Kimberly Ingram said. “He’s been through a lot. Jaydon has been through so much.”
— Southeastern Conference (@SEC) October 8, 2022
Hill certainly has been through a lot in his four years as a Gator after an ACL tear kept him out of the 2021 season and another knee injury kept him out of the first four games of the 2022 season.
A constant message she has shared with her son has been “it will all work itself out.” And, although Hill’s time in Gainesville has come with ups and downs, trials and tribulations, that message has stayed true.
After spending his freshman season in 2019 as a reserve defensive back, Hill had 14 total tackles and finished second on the team with seven pass breakups in 2020, a rare positive for a defense that gave up over 250 passing yards a game.
With his consistent play, Hill was poised to start opposite of Kaiir Elam for the 2021 season. Then, on Aug. 8, 2021, Hill tore his ACL in his left knee.
“We were devastated. It was devastating for him. You know, of course when your child is upset, it’s heartbreaking,” Kimberly said. “But he battled through it. He worked hard to get back. We were so proud of him for that.”
It was Hill’s second ACL tear of his career. Hill tore the ACL in his right knee during his senior season of high school in 2018.
Kimberly said her son’s mental strength as well as the support system surrounding him helped him through the difficult time in his life.
“He handled everything well from a mental perspective,” she said. “As I said, our family is really close. He has a great support system. We’ve always taught him to block out that noise, and everything will work itself out.”
In Hill’s absence, the Gators finished the 2021 season with a record of 6-7 that ultimately ended with defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and then head coach Dan Mullen being fired prior to the season’s finish and no on-field staff being retained.
In stepped new head coach Billy Napier and an entirely new staff including Corey Raymond, Jaydon’s third position coach in four years. Despite being faced with returning from an injury and on top of that having to adjust to a new coaching staff, scheme, and terminology, Kimberly said her son never considered transferring.
Everything continued to work itself out.
“I didn’t know that much about (Napier),” Kimberly recalled. “Everything I had heard about him was really good. We got to meet him at the meet-and-greet, and I really liked him and his staff. Everybody. Coach Raymond, the whole staff, Jaydon loves them. That was important.”
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Arguably the biggest influence for Hill on the new staff is strength and conditioning coach Mark Hocke, who Kimberly called an inspiration for her son and said he regularly checked in with Hill every day to make sure he was OK.
“He’s told me how much he really likes Coach Hocke. He tells me how he’s always motivating him,” she explained.
As Hill entered his first spring practice under Napier, he was slated to compete for the starting cornerback spot once again, but another knee injury suffered over the summer, albeit less significant than his ACL tear, kept him out of fall camp and the first four games of the season.
“It was the devastation all over again. He had just bounced from his second ACL, and then this happened. He was devastated,” Kimberly explained. “Me, as a mom, I didn’t know what to think. I just prayed and I asked God, ‘Whatever your will is for his future, just please reveal it to me,’ because I didn’t know at that point if it was to continue playing football. That’s where I was at that point.”
As with the rest of his Gator career, things worked themselves out, and Hill recovered from his third knee injury in five years. For the first time since 2020, Hill returned to the Gators’ depth chart as a starter for the Week 5 game against Eastern Washington.
Prior to Hill’s return to the field, Kimberly left more words of encouragement, this time with a quote in a Facebook post on Oct. 2, summing up her son’s journey over the last two years.
“’The angels are saying to you today. You are entering a new season where everything will start to go your way. It’s time! You had enough lessons. You did the work. You overcame so much. You believed even when it was hard to. You never gave up. You pushed through it all. Now it’s your turn to receive it in a major way.’ It’s Go Time Son.”
And go time it was. Hill finished with four total tackles in the Gators’ 52-17 route of the Eagles, but his return was truly felt the following week against Missouri.
His pick-six in the first quarter not only was the Gators’ first touchdown of the game, but it was also his first-career interception. His impact continued with another interception, this time inside the Tigers’ 5-yard line late in the third quarter.
Have a day, @_jhill5!!
— Florida Gators Football (@GatorsFB) October 8, 2022
The Gators would go on to win 24-17, and Hill was named the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Week. Kimberly said her son learned of the accolade while the two were on facetime.
“He got a text while we were on facetime. I got so excited I didn’t even ask (who told him),” she said with a laugh.
The excitement from Hill’s play extended to his teammates. Keon Zipperer, Princely Umanmiele and and Kamar Wilcoxson all tweeted their praise, while Hill commented on the sideline reaction at the postgame press conference.
#Gators CB Jaydon Hill says that after his pick-6, some teammates were getting teary eyed for him on the sideline.
“Seeing everybody so happy for me… makes me so happy.”
This guy’s smile is contagious right now. pic.twitter.com/4ZG0NSx309
— Zack Weiss (@ZackaryWeiss_) October 8, 2022
“I love to see it. They have been so good to him throughout the whole process,” Kimberly said. “Throughout his whole recovery, they have been there for him.”
Although the Gators earned the much-needed win for homecoming, their schedule doesn’t get much easier with LSU coming to town on Saturday and a matchup with No. 1 Georgia two weeks later.
With the hard work paying off and things continuing to work themselves out, Kimberly said her message to her son is simple: “Stay focused and keep working.”
“I think that just comes from, we always teach our children to work hard for what you want. To compete. I think nothing in life is given to you,” she said. “So, when you get older, and you start to face situations like this, you’re able to work through that adversity when you’ve been taught that at a young age. I think that’s helped Jaydon.”
Hill and the Gators have lost two in a row to LSU, but his journey over the last two years serves as a reminder that no hill is too high, and no goal is out of reach. If you believe in yourself and put in the work, things will eventually work out.
(Photos courtesy Florida Sports Information)