IOWA CITY, Iowa — Barkley Hill is ready to replay first down.
It remains to be seen whether or not the Denver native and former Cedar Falls High School standout running back will get his number called this season.
This time last year Hill had positioned himself as a viable option in an Iowa football backfield depleted by transfers and injuries.
The Parade All-American, who rushed for more than 6,000 yards and scored a state-record 89 touchdowns in three seasons at Cedar Falls, was a true freshman sharing reps behind starting candidate Damon Bullock.
As the Hawkeyes concluded their 2012 August preseason camp with a Saturday afternoon scrimmage, Hill’s stock continued to rise. He turned a screen pass into a 39-yard gain, and toward the conclusion of the scrimmage, completed an 8-yard rush into Kinnick Stadium’s north end zone.
Hill collided with fullback Jacob Reisen and cornerback Torey Campbell on the play. He injured his anterior cruciate ligament and missed the fall season following ACL surgery.
“We were really thin last year, and it looked like he was doing a really nice job,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Unfortunately, he got hurt that scrimmage. Fluke thing, which a lot of times knees are.”
While Hill began his rehabilitation process, Bullock debuted with an impressive, 150-yard rushing performance in Iowa’s season-opening victory over Orange Bowl participant Northern Illinois before eventually missing six games due to injuries of his own. Fullback Mark Weisman then stepped to the forefront, barreling his way past 100 yards in four consecutive games against the likes of Northern Iowa, Central Michigan, Minnesota and Michigan State. He missed two games due to injury.
Add to that mix the return of Jordan Canzeri, who redshirted last season following an ACL injury, and Hill enters his second fall camp absent from the team’s depth chart with plenty to prove.
“He’s pressing to make the travel roster and help us on offense,” first-year running backs coach Chris White said. “We’ll see if he has a role on special teams, as well.”
While Weisman (6-0, 236 pounds) is more of a hybrid fullback, Bullock and Canzeri are smaller, 200-pounders with the ability to also line up as receivers in some formations.
“If we played a game right now, we feel comfortable because they’ve played in games,” White said, addressing the three backs listed on Iowa’s current depth chart. “We haven’t tackled yet. In a week’s time, I think there will be more of a pecking order.”
Hill says he feels good entering fall camp and is eager to prove himself once again.
“Any player that gets injured, it’s not fun being on the sideline so they’re going to work hard just like everybody else,” Hill said. “But they’re going to do a lot more just to get back on the field and get ready to go.”
Hill’s rough freshman fall semester wasn’t limited to the on-field injury. In late November, he was charged with operating while intoxicated in Cedar Falls days before his 19th birthday. Ferentz issued a statement at the time noting Hill would face a minimum one-game suspension. Hill says there haven’t been any discussions of additional penalties to this point.
“It’s a mistake I made early,” Hill said. “I shouldn’t have made it and it’s something to learn from. It’s just how you recover from it, how you come back. If you repeat the incident, then you don’t learn anything. But if you stay on the straight path, then you’ll be good to go.”
Entering fall camp, Hill is now being evaluated alongside fellow redshirt freshman Michael Malloy of Sioux City Heelan as a potential difference-maker. Malloy walked on after having his scholarship pulled following an arrest. He regained the scholarship last spring.
White is eager to turn the page with both redshirt freshmen.
“They’re young, they were immature at one point and I think they’re starting to figure it out,” White said. “They’re very talented players that keep getting better each day and they’re going to help us, trust me.”
Ferentz is ready to see what the future holds for Hill, as well.
“In the spring he was able to work, but not go full speed all the time,” Ferentz said. “He didn’t quite have that comfort level back. ... But he’s full speed now and a guy we’re really anxious and eager to evaluate. He’s still a young player, but we’re eager to watch him and Mike Malloy.”
After a year on campus and a summer of work with strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle, Hill is embracing the challenge that awaits his second freshman season.
“A lot of people think that football is a lot of the physical stuff, but a lot of it is mental,” Hill said. “Once you get the mental things down, I think it makes the game a lot more fun for second-year players.
“I’ve matured. ... built a relationship with the team. Just that bonding and togetherness helps a lot when it comes to play on the field. I’m just looking forward to going out there, working hard, hopefully getting a chance to play, and doing our best.”