Since the first week of December 2022, Jay Hill’s life has been a blur.

That’s when BYU tasked Hill with teaching, installing and recruiting a new defense for BYU football on the eve of the school jumping into the Big 12 Conference. 

“We’ve got to continue to recruit at a high level and get better personnel, and coaches have to get better at putting players in the right situation and our players need to get better at learning the scheme we’ve implemented. I’d say we’re off to a great start, but we have a ways to go.” — BYU defensive coordinator Jay Hill

Aside from curiosity about who will be the starting quarterback, the historic top story of any BYU football game, the Jay Hill story has overshadowed most all story angles by media covering spring football in Provo.

It is the big story as spring drills conclude. 

Gradually, from early days when it was like feeding players with a fire hose, he saw results in spring football practice where his defense stopped Aaron Roderick’s offense often and regularly caused disruption. He’s turned the pages from A to Z in establishing what he’s demanded. He has meticulously explained, observed, corrected and installed his “Aggressive” attack philosophy. 

How does a guy even begin with all that?

How do you get half of a football team from Stage 1 to Stage 3 and 4? How do you choreograph a new defense, change mindsets and position everyone to act as one? And do it within weeks?

Well, you do it with passion and energy. Those are traits Hill possesses in abundance. He hopes that fire and enthusiasm rubs off inside helmets and pads. Players say they certainly have.

“Whenever you coach, whether you are new in a program or have been there forever, your No. 1 goal is to ask how can we get better with talent, which comes through recruiting, how do we get better with scheme, how do we get the right players in the right positions?  I think right now we’re somewhere in the middle of all of that,” said Hill, a successful head coach at Weber State before accepting the defensive coordinator position at BYU.

“We’ve got to continue to recruit at a high level and get better personnel, and coaches have to get better at putting players in the right situation and our players need to get better at learning the scheme we’ve implemented. I’d say we’re off to a great start, but we have a ways to go.”

Hill said what he’s trying to do is a process. One of the first things he did after being hired is recruit. There are certain traits he needs in defenders to execute positions. That required bringing in new bodies or moving others around. There have also been hard decisions, telling some players they likely would not play.

“After that, it was a matter of teaching the coaches the defense and then teaching the players the defense. It’s a process you do day after day to get everyone ready to play in the fall.”

Hill said nothing is easy. “There are players here who have given their blood, sweat and tears to this program and they want to be at BYU. But there are tough decisions. We have to decipher who’s going to play, who’s going to play the most and then there are conversations where you tell a player they are not going to play at all. No coach wants to have that conversion, but it’s reality and the business of what we have to do to get better.”

This past week, Hill got a commitment from USU outside rusher A.J. Vongphachanh, who was recruited out of Washington by new linebackers coach Justin Ena. On Friday, freshman linebacker Logan Pili and defensive back George Udo announced they were entering the transfer portal.

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Earlier this year Hill brought in All-America corner Eddie Heckard from his Weber State squad, Boise State defensive linemen Jackson Cravens and Isaiah Bagnah, Cerritos College corner Jayden Dunlap and Southern Utah defensive lineman Wyatt Daw and corner Dylan Flowers.

Spring drills have shown signs of Hill’s success and have shown how effective the defensive pass rush has been when thrown at Pittsburgh/USC transfer quarterback Kedon Slovis and BYU’s big offensive line. The defense has proven disruptive and energetic and players have bought into his philosophy.

“We’re on the same page, we speak the same language as far as football and the defense,” said Sitake on Friday in an interview with 365 Sports Radio in Waco, Texas. “He was with us (at Utah) when we made the jump from the Mountain West to the Pac 12 and he’ll be with us when we make this transition as an independent to the Big 12. We really feel good about the approach and experience. He has a bunch of experience coaching special teams coordinator at Utah and he’s been a leader. “

Sitake said BYU just finished the most physical spring practice session he’s had since taking the job in Provo. Hill, as assistant head coach, was part of the move to do more live tackling in preparation for improvement in fundamentals.

“It’s kind of weird, we’re way older than we used to be but I feel the experience he brings as a leader, as a head coach. He’s put a lot of guys in the league during his time as head coach at Weber State and I love the staff he has put together and energy he brings. I’ve seen a significant difference in our team. They’ve taken to him and I look forward to the summer and fall camp.”

Hill’s passion is constantly on display with players as he and the athletes try to fashion a relationship.

Hill’s reputed enthusiasm has followed him his entire career as a star player at Lehi High School, Ricks College, his stellar career playing and coaching at Utah, a short stint playing in the NFL, and his presence as the head coach at Weber State in Ogden.

“One, I love the game. This game has been so good to me as a player and a coach,” said Hill. “Second, I’m just trying to install that same love I have for the game into the players. The other thing is I have the best job in the world. I get to show up every day, and like my brother says, play football. Why wouldn’t I love it, show up enthusiastic and excited about what I’m doing?”

Hill said the players know how he feels, that showing up, doing it right, and doing it with passion and a desire to get better is what it’s all about. “If I show up and mope around and I’m not excited about what I’m doing, I’m not going to be able to get done what I want to get done.”

Hill said so far, “knock on wood,” the defense has not had any serious injuries during spring.

“I love the way Kalani (Sitake) has structured practices, the way the strength coaches have been with trying to keep our guys healthy, and so far we’ve been healthy.

In the next six weeks, Hill will make other big changes in his life.

For the past four months, he’s been commuting to Provo from his home in Ogden. Where he once had a perfect setup just eight minutes from his football offices at Weber State, he embarked on a 90-minute plus drive to BYU’s Student-Athlete Building.

This means getting up at 5:30 a.m. to get a start on the bulk of the plugged-up traffic on Interstate 15 along the Wasatch Front. His drive to work includes a trek through Weber, Davis, Salt Lake, and Utah counties, right through the gut of the state’s most populous areas during a historic snowfall winter.

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At times, Hill left Provo at 8 or 9 p.m. and stayed at his parent’s house in Lehi — cutting short his trek home. He arrives at his BYU office around 7 a.m. to prepare for staff meetings at 8 a.m. “There’s a lot to do to prepare for when we get things started around 8,” said Hill.

Adding a three-hour round trip commute to his day when others on the staff have rolled out of bed and made it to work in 15 minutes or less is a quite a chore for Hill.

“It’s driving me nuts,” Hill admitted.

But it’s what he and his wife Sara agreed to take on after taking the BYU job. They have four children, Ashtyn, Alayna, Allie, and Jacob.

In a matter of weeks, the Hills will target and purchase a home in Utah County to end this commuting challenge. In this economy, it won’t be easy. For a home equal to what they have in Ogden, buying a similar property in Provo would be both a rare find and expensive.  It may be they’ll go a little backward financially in the house swap due to inventory, interest rates and general real estate markets in Provo and Orem.

“That will come, but it’s a tough market right now.”

Those challenges are some things some folks forget when these coaching changes take place. Hill’s family is in the thick of it and it will be life-changing to end the commute.

“It’s so good to be here. It’s one of those programs I’ve admired for a long time from afar. I love working for Kalani and the excitement and energy of how things are going is good.”

BYU defensive coordinator Jay Hill watches players during BYU spring camp at the BYU Indoor Practice Facility.
BYU defensive coordinator Jay Hill watches players practice during opening day of BYU spring camp at the BYU Indoor Practice Facility in Provo, on Monday, March 6, 2023. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News