KEARNEY — For the first time in his three-year collegiate career, University of Nebraska at Kearney linebacker Rakid Hill played in all 11 games last season.
For the first time last year, Hill taped his ankles before each game, which he believes allowed him to remain injury-free and produce at a high level.
This season, Hill once again will be a key figure in the middle of an experienced Lopers defense that allowed 21.5 points per game last season.
“I am excited to be in the final year,” Hill said. “It’s not become I’m almost done but because I want to do something big.”
After playing in eight games as a redshirt freshman, Hill moved from outside linebacker to an inside spot in 2017. He was one of the Lopers’ top linebackers, recording 30 tackles, in a season where injuries limited him to seven games.
Last season, Hill was instrumental in the defense’s success. He remained healthy and played in every game to finish fourth on the team with 47 tackles.
Hill dedicated time in the offseason to adding weight to his frame and refining his skills. He hopes to be more aggressive downhill, helping the Lopers generate more turnovers after they ranked last in the MIAA with just four interceptions.
“Rakid is another one who’s played a lot of football,” coach Josh Lynn said. “Very good athlete. The thing about Rakid is he’s a great teammate and a very exceptional football player. He’s one of the guys we lean on for leadership, and he’s one of the hardest working guys out here. He’s everything you want at inside linebacker.”
The Lopers return three of their four starting linebackers. Besides Hill, senior inside linebacker Sal Silvio and junior outside linebacker Travis Holcomb are returning starters.
Silvio was a first-team All-MIAA recipient after tallying a notable 108 tackles in 10 games last season. It marked the second consecutive year he led the Lopers in tackles.
Lynn hopes the return of both inside linebackers will allow for minimal mistakes from the linebacker group this season.
“Me and Sal like to think of ourselves as the quarterbacks of the defense,” said Hill, who’s a team captain. “We like to keep everyone around us up and encourage everybody.”
With the return of three starting linebackers and plenty of depth, the Lopers have high expectations from the linebacker group this season.
Redshirt juniors Ty Botsford and Quinn Brummer and redshirt sophomore Jacey Nutter are returning lettermen at inside linebacker.
Redshirt seniors Alec Sovereign and Zach Sullivan and redshirt juniors Travis Holcomb and Will Lansman have playing experience at outside linebacker.
“We have to execute, know the plays, trust in our teammates and create turnovers,” Hill said.
n UNK Inside Linebackers
RETURNERS — Rakid Hill, R-Sr., Florissant, Mo.; Sal Silvio, R-Sr., Kansas City, Mo.; Quinn Brummer, R-Jr., Omaha; Ty Botsford, R-Jr., Sussex, Wis.; Jacey Nutter, R-So., Thedford; Carson Pilkington, R-Fr., Elkhorn; Wyatt Kee, R-Fr., Gibbon; Thomas Jenkins, R-Fr., Aurora, Colo.
NEWCOMERS — Evan Fisher, Fr., Imperial; Ty Sookram, Fr., Fremont.
n UNK Outside Linebackers
RETURNERS — Zach Sullivan, R-Sr., Omaha; Alec Sovereign, R-Sr.; Lincoln; Travis Holcomb, R-Jr., Cairo; Will Lansman, R-Jr., Harlan, Iowa; Hunter Novacek, R-Fr., Kearney; Keyshaun Vandyke, R-Fr., Florissant, Mo.
NEWCOMERS — Sam Thomas, Jr., Tallahassee, Fla.; Tommy Bragg, Fr., Gordon; Cameron Raffaeli, Fr., Ogallala; Carson Zwingman, Fr., Columbus.