Before he was a standout football player at Lehi High, Ricks College and the University of Utah, and a highly successful assistant or head coach at the U., Weber State and now BYU, 16-year-old Jay Hill lost his driving privileges.

Ferrell Hill took away his son’s car keys, but not for skipping school, driving too fast or failing to maintain the automobile properly.

“I took my girlfriend to lunch one day, and I had to park in front of the seminary building at Lehi, where he was teaching,” Jay said last week. “I got home after school and dad is standing on the front porch with his hand out. He told me to hand over the keys.”


Because Ferrell Hill, who turns 82 next month, was watching from his classroom window and noticed that Jay didn’t open the car door for his girlfriend.

“That’s just some insight on how he was raised, what kind of man and father he is,” Jay said. “One of the many things he taught us was to treat women with respect, treat them the right way.”

Jay Hill eventually got his car keys back, but he never forgot that moment, and many more life lessons delivered by Ferrell or his mother, Venda Hill, to him or any of his five siblings: Jeff, Cheri, Nicole, Tara and Paul.

Weber State head coach Jay Hill, center, poses with his dad, Ferrell, left, and mom, Venda, after a Weber State football game in Ogden. Hill is now the defensive coordinator at BYU. Courtesy Hill family.

“My dad has meant everything to whatever success I’ve had,” said BYU’s second-year defensive coordinator. “I learned about hard work and dedication from my dad. He is willing to help anybody, at any time. He will drop whatever he is doing to help other people. That’s always kind of been who he is.”

Ferrell Hill is the Deseret News’ unofficial Utah Sports Father of the Year, joining the likes of other fathers we’ve featured in past years before Father’s Day such as Draper’s Mike Wilson (father of Whitney, Zach, Josh, Micah, Isaac and Sophie), University of Utah basketball coach Craig Smith and Tom Sitake, father of BYU football coach Kalani Sitake, Jay Hill’s boss.

How selfless is Ferrell Hill?

As a teenager, Jay was driving a four-wheeler near the family’s cabin one day and going up a steep hill when the vehicle stalled out and eventually rolled.

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“It was my fault,” Jay said. “Like a dummy, I turned the wheel and it started to (roll). My dad, in an attempt to protect me, throws me off the four-wheeler, and then just rides it out. He rolled with it the whole way down the hill, and it was a long way down.

“I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, I just killed my dad,’” he continued. “He was beat up pretty good — a ton of scrapes and bruises, but nothing that required surgery. He had done everything he could to get me out of harm’s way, and then he took the brunt of it. It was one of those things that showed me who he is — the kind of man who will do whatever it takes to help others at his own expense.”

‘I wanted to be a part of their high school experience’

Ferrell Hill graduated from BYU and then joined the U.S. Army Reserves and went to school in New York to become an army chaplain. He is now a retired colonel in the Army with three sons, three daughters, 39 grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren.

He still watches as many of their sporting events as he can. For instance, last weekend he was in Idaho watching one of Tara’s daughters play softball.

“I’ve loved sports all my life and have seen the value in them and the difference they make in people’s lives,” he said.

The oldest four, including Jay, were born back East. When the family returned to Utah, Ferrell got a job teaching seminary, which he did along with running a drywall construction company and doing time with the Army reserves on weekends.

He served as a chaplain for more than 30 years.

“That was dad — always busy, always working, very supportive,” Jay said. “I didn’t go without much. We weren’t rich, but I didn’t ever go wanting. I learned from him how to work hard and be devoted to things. He is very religious, obviously.”

Since retiring, Venda and Ferrell have served three missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A would-be fourth, to Germany, had to be cancelled because they got sick and didn’t want to travel overseas. He also served as a bishop before he turned 30, in the presidency of the Missionary Training Center in Provo, and in various ward bishoprics and branch presidencies. He is now a stake patriarch.

Members of the Hill family, left to right: Jeff Hill, Jay Hill, Ferrell Hill, Bridger Salazar (son-in-law), Jacob Hill (Jay's son).
Members of the Hill family, left to right: Jeff Hill, Jay Hill, Ferrell Hill, Bridger Salazar (son-in-law), Jacob Hill (Jay's son). | Hill family

“Dad has always loved sports, and he passed on that love to us. He never got to play them growing up. He always had to work and help earn money for his family,” Jay said. “But he’s also as devout a man religiously as you will find.”

Ferrell said he was principal of Timpview’s seminary, but found that it took him away from his kids’ athletic endeavors. So he took a demotion and returned to Lehi as a seminary staffer.

At the time, Lehi’s football field didn’t have lights, so games were held in the afternoons and a lot of parents couldn’t make it to them. So Ferrell and his friends helped get lights installed — much sooner than most other schools in the area.

“I just wanted to be a part of their high school experience,” he said.

And, presumably, make sure Jay opened car doors at the appropriate times.

From blue, to red, to purple

Most college football fans across the state are familiar with Jay Hill’s story, and how he surprisingly signed with Utah and coach Ron McBride after a standout career at Ricks (now BYU-Idaho) despite being from a Utah County family of BYU fans. A couple of Ferrell’s brothers were BYU professors.

Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham, right, and Weber State Wildcats head coach Jay Hill talk before a game in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018. | Ravell Call, Deseret News

“They wanted me to go to BYU, originally, but they were very supportive during my recruiting process, of all my choices,” Jay said. “But no question, our whole family was way tied into BYU.”

Ferrell said when the family visited BYU, they met legendary coach LaVell Edwards and a recently graduated receiver from their area of Utah County — Ben Cahoon. Edwards knew very little about the 1997 junior college All-American, and even had to ask Jay for his name.

At Utah, “Coach McBride took us aside and he said, ‘Your son does this in the 40-yard dash, and he does that in the long jump, and he had all these interceptions (at Ricks),’” Ferrell said. “He knew all of Jay’s statistics. He told us, ‘on the 4th of September (in 1999) we play at Washington State and I need Jay on the field playing for the Utes.’”

The Hills were sold, and so was their son. Jay led the Mountain West Conference in interceptions his senior season, as the team’s defensive MVP, and a second-team all-MWC selection.

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“Jay came home and said, ‘Dad, I am going to go play for Utah.’ I said, ‘Jay, I don’t have anything in my closet that is red and white. Not one thing,’” Ferrell said. “But he was convinced. We were treated so well by all the coaches at Utah. We were treated royally by Utah. He loved playing for them. He had a good experience there.”

After getting a brief shot at playing in the NFL, Jay Hill returned to his alma mater in 2001 as a graduate assistant under McBride, and then Urban Meyer, and then became a member of Kyle Whittingham’s original staff in 2005.

In 2014 he made another move that shocked his family, taking the head coaching position — and a significant pay cut — at Ogden’s Weber State University.

“When I left the U. for Weber State everyone questioned, ‘What are you doing? What are you thinking?’” Jay Hill said. “But never in a negative fashion. My parents were always supportive, and my dad knew I really wanted to be a head coach, run my own program. He was totally on board.”

A belief that’s bigger than a mountain

Ferrell Hill is an excellent story teller. “Let me tell you a story,” he says for about the fifth time in a recent interview, then relates a story about a time the Utes were playing in San Diego and a young recruit was there to watch them play, and watch Jay coach the defensive backs.

Ferrell went up to the young man and told him that if he signed with the Utes, and listened to his son, and followed his direction, he would become an All-American and play in the NFL some day.

The recruit followed Ferrell’s counsel and signed with Utah. His name was Eric Weddle.

Utah's Eric Weddle holds up the ball after recovering a fumble in the Utes' victory over Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl. Weddle who enjoyed spectacular college and NFL careers, was on the receiving end of a pitch from Jay Hill's dad, Ferrell, during the recruiting process. | Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News

“My dad has always had this great belief in me, and he has passed that along,” Jay said. “Every decision I’ve made, I have talked to him about, and he’s always been supportive, and super influential in my life.”

Ferrell said his son’s secret to success is his ability to relate to people of all walks of life, and connect with them. Jay says he got that attribute from his dad.

“Almost every kid who has played for Jay has loved him,” Ferrell said. “The kids up at Weber State, they loved him, and when they had the opportunity to come to BYU, they were quick to say, ‘Hey, we are coming.’”

Last year, cornerbacks Eddie Heckard and Kamden Garrett moved from Ogden to Provo; this year, the Cougars will feature former Wildcats Jack Kelly and Marque Collins.

‘Deep down, they were excited about this move’

When Ferrell heard on Dec. 6, 2022, that his son was “being considered” for the vacant defensive coordinator position at BYU, he took a deep breath and considered the possibilities. He was not unhappy.

“Jay called me, and asked me to keep it quiet, but said he was going to interview at BYU and possibly join his good friend, Kalani,” Ferrell said. “I said it would be a wonderful experience and I would support him 100% in whatever he decided.”

Jay says he could sense in his parents’ reaction to the news that came Dec. 7 that they were ecstatic, and not just because the trips were going to be a lot better. The plan is to have them make the trips to Orlando for the UCF game and Dallas for the SMU game.

“They have always had a love for BYU, so I think deep down they were actually pretty excited about this move — both of them,” Jay said.

Ferrell says he now has three college football programs to support.

“Man, I got a closet full of Utah stuff. I got half a closet full of Weber State stuff,” he said. “And now I’ve got a closet full of BYU stuff. We live in a senior citizens community. When they have a Utah thing, I put on my Utah shirt. When they have a BYU thing, I put on my BYU shirt. I love sports, and I love the competition.

“I can now sit in the stands and watch my son do the thing he loves. I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”

New BYU defensive coordinator Jay Hill, left, meets with the media with head coach Kalani Sitake on Dec. 7, 2022. | Joey Garrison, BYU Photo

‘An ideal son’

Jay is now a father himself, with four children who are making him proud. His oldest daughter, Ashtyn Salazar, is a BYU graduate and recently married. Second daughter Alayna, a standout soccer player in high school, is on a church mission in Paraguay. Jacob will be a junior at Orem High this fall, while Allie will be in the eighth grade and is heavy into dance, as Ashtyn was.

“As Sara and I have raised our kids, we have tried to model what dad did as far as stressing hard work and being disciplined,” Jay said. “I think the biggest thing my dad did was to be a strong provider. He provided a safe environment for us to learn in.

“As Sara and I have raised our kids, we have tried to model what dad did as far as stressing hard work and being disciplined. I think the biggest thing my dad did was to be a strong provider. He provided a safe environment for us to learn in.”

—  Weber State defensive coordinator Jay Hill

“I never knew how much money he made. I just knew we didn’t ever go hungry and stuff like that. I try to be the same way with our kids — they don’t really know anything about the finances,” he continued. “But I try to model to them hard work, which is something I learned from my dad.”

Ferrell ran the down markers on the sidelines at Lehi football games more than 30 years ago, so he got a firsthand look at how talented his son was on the football field back in the early 1990s, before Jay served a church mission to Puerto Rico.

“He also had five or six really close friends that, after practice was over, would stay and work on timing, routes, different things,” Ferrell said. “That really impressed me. They really helped one another.”


Through it all, Jay has never failed to make his father proud.

“Jay was just an ideal son. I have never seen him angry. I have never seen him mad at anybody. He is very cool-headed. He is straightforward with people. If he has a disagreement with somebody, he will go put his arm around them, talk about it, solve the problem,” Ferrell said. “That is one of his great talents.

He’s been a great son. All my sons and daughters are great with their children. They have done a great job raising their own children as well. All of my grandchildren are absolutely angels.”

Their role model is first-rate, as well.

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