Jay Hill spent 13 years as a football assistant coach at the University of Utah, the past nine as the special teams coordinator. He was also a highly touted recruiter.
Recently, he has transformed Weber State into a Football Championship Subdivision national contender in his five seasons as the head coach. The Wildcats qualified for the FCS playoffs in 2016 for the first time since 2009 and reached the quarterfinals last fall.
After going 2-10 in his first season in 2014, the Wildcats are 34-15 including 19 wins in their past 22 home games.
Big Sky champion Weber State (10-2), the No. 3 team in the FCS, hosts the No. 12 University of Maine (9-3) in Friday’s 8 p.m. Football Championship Subdivision national quarterfinal at Stewart Stadium in Ogden, Utah.
Visit bangordailynews.com starting at 8 p.m. Friday to find our live blog, where we’ll be following the game in real time.
Last season was Weber State’s most successful ever as the Wildcats went 11-3 and won two games in the FCS playoffs before losing to No. 1 seed and national runner-up James Madison 31-28 in the quarterfinals.
“They will be the best-coached team we’ve played this season,” UMaine head coach Joe Harasymiak said.
“They have a very dynamic returner [Rashid Shaheed]. We won’t have a lot of room for error. Their players understand the game plan,” he said. “They have an impressive young running back [Josh Davis], and their offensive line is good.”
The Wildcats had 19 players earn All-Big Sky honors, including a record 13 who claimed first-team berths.
The 5-foot-9, 185-pound Davis was the school’s first Big Sky Freshman of the Year after rushing for 1,350 yards and 122.7 yards per game, both of which rank seventh in the FCS. He is fifth with 161.09 all-purpose yards per contest and 16 yards per punt return.
“He’s tough. He’s a very good football player. He has good bursts and good speed,” UMaine defensive coordinator Corey Hetherman said. “They’ve got a pretty good group of wide receivers. They have an All-American kickoff returner, and they have a veteran offensive line. They don’t turn the ball over.”
Shaheed is averaging 36.9 yards per kickoff return, second best in the nation.
Weber State’s other Big Sky first-teamers on offense are senior tackle Josua Opeta and sophomore guard Ty Whitworth. Shaheed and Brady May were first-team picks on special teams.
Quarterback Jake Constantine, a Boise State transfer, has completed 63.7 percent of his passes (184-for-289) for 1,933 yards and 16 touchdowns. He has been intercepted eight times.
Shaheed is their leading pass catcher (36 catches, 423 yards, 5 TDs) and is one of four receivers with at least 28 catches.
The defense has allowed 21 points per game, tied for 15th in the FCS, and has been stingy on third down (27 percent conversions) to rank fourth in the FCS. Their turnover margin (plus-.92) is eighth best.
The eight All Big Sky first-teamers on defense are cornerback Kellan Benjamin, safeties Jawian Harrison Jr. and Jordan Preator, end Adam Rodriguez, tackle Filipe Sitake, end Jonah Williams, and linebackers Landon Stice and LeGrand Toia.
Toia leads the team in tackles (79) and sacks (6.5), Stice is second with 69 tackles and is tied with Benjamin in interceptions (5), and Rodriguez leads in tackles for a loss (13.5) followed by Toia (13).
“They’re really sound and disciplined on defense,” UMaine senior co-captain Drew Belcher said.
“They’re good; they tackle [well],” UMaine offensive coordinator Nick Charlton said. “They play a lot of man-[to-man defense]. They’ll have some pressures. They are an aggressive style defense, but they kind of mix it up, too. They make it hard.”