And the life being saved is his own.
A little over a year ago, Ian Hill decided that he would “snap from the jaws of death, a thousand men” including his own. He would save lives and raise awareness for men’s mental health by becoming the oldest ever Division I college football player.
At 57 years young, Hill is not a former college superstar longing to relive a decorated past. Nor is he an athletic anomaly who has managed to elude the clutches of time. The Tucson, Arizona native did not play a college sport, and humbly remembers himself as “A good to average high school athlete”.
In the present day, large chunks of his time are occupied by daily physical training, but playing football is not how he earns a living. Most of Hill’s days are centered around his role as the founder and CEO of National Grassroots Media Company, a media firm that provides digital TV and internet radio to underserved communities.
Long snapping and life saving intersected after Hill endured a difficult period of time that threatened to topple his personal and professional life.
“When I went through my mental health challenges I shut everything down… Depression tried to take me out, as a 50 year old man” he said.
What Hill struggled with is far from an isolated incident among men. According to the Center for Disease Control, “men are less likely than women to recognize, talk about, and seek treatment for depression”. More strikingly, men accounted for 49% of the American population in 2020, yet made up 80% of suicides (CDC).
“We’re trying to do something about that by creating space for a dialogue… and proving that all things are possible” said Hill.
The Arizona native hopes to dispel the outdated notion that asking for help is a sign of weakness among men. Through his transparent journey, he aims to blaze a trail for men who are looking to improve their physical and mental health.
In his effort to become a college long snapper, Hill has noticed vast improvements in his own mental health, “It [forces] me to get my mind right every morning. It [forces] me to do all the things that are best practices in improving your mental health” he said.
Some of these best practices include eating healthy, getting consistent sleep, and moving his body every day; three factors that have been proven to increase wellbeing. Implementing and sustaining these lifestyle habits can be difficult for one man, but putting them into practice becomes much more realistic with support from others.
“Go and get a team… build your team to stand around you and support you through the difficult times”, said Hill.
His team is made up of four members: Chris Rubio, Kirk Sanderson, Kristen Bujnowski, and Dr. Conor Hogan.
Coach Rubio is a well known long snapping coach who has helped send over 1000 long snappers to either the college or professional level. The average time it takes college long snappers to huck the ball back 15 yards ranges from 0.65 to 0.78 seconds. With Rubio’s help, Hill has eclipsed 0.75 seconds and has his sights set even lower.
Sanderson assists with strength training while Bujnowski, a 2022 Canadian Olympian, holds Hill accountable for his diet. Dr. Hogan specializes in mental preparation, and his work has gained recognition from TIME Magazine.
While Hill is surrounded by superstars, a man who is trying to build a team around him does not need an olympian or a world renowned coach in his corner.
“Maybe your team is a guy that works for you, a guy you went to high school with, and a guy who lives down the street,” Hill said.
With help from his team, the Tucson long snapper’s grueling two-a-day workouts and long hours of recovery yielded an opportunity. This past summer, Ian Hill landed a tryout on July 29th for FCS school University of Northern Alabama, a member of the Atlantic Sun conference. At 57 years old, he had battled back the clock while his body labored through the training regiment that an 18 year old athlete would go through. Finally, he was rewarded with a moment to accomplish the improbable.
But it was only a moment. Hill did not get the news he was hoping for.
“I wasn’t good enough, that’s the bottom line”, he said. While Hill was encouraged by the accumulation of support for his overarching goal of improving men’s mental health, he had no plans to collect his sympathy and call it a career.
To bring attention to his physical attributes and show off his technical ability as a long snapper, Hill plans on attending the National Scouting Combine in January.
“I’m proud to be aligned with the National Scouting Combine. I’m proud the National Scouting Combine has stepped up in the battle against depression” said Hill.
While this is an opportunity for Hill to spread awareness around men’s mental health, he has metrics he knows he has to hit.
“I gotta throw that 225 [bench press] up 12, 14 times”. He went on to set his snapping goal, “I want to come into the combine and put the ball back in 0.70 [seconds]” he said.
Snapping the ball back in seven tenths of a second would raise eyebrows already heightened from the sight of a middle- aged man in pads, but would more importantly equip Hill with an indisputable badge of legitimacy. The road to 0.70 will be more of a challenge than the path to 0.75, which offered more than its share of hardships.
He’s been hindered and nagged by a strained AC joint, a stress fracture in his foot, a sports hernia, and a rotator cuff injury, all within the span of a year. Through all of these ailments he has persevered and has adjusted his strategy in hopes of remaining as healthy as possible.
“We changed the training regime to focus almost exclusively on injury prevention…Get my body more mobile, get my body more flexible”, said Hill.
Hill’s interminable motor has been fueled by two goals: to play college football, and to create a roadmap for men to sustain positive mental health. The first objective leaves no gray area. He will either be on a college football roster, or he will not.
His goal relating to mental health seems harder to measure. How and when will he know if he has made a legitimate difference in men’s lives?
“We already have, we have thousands of men who have reached out. Who have said they’ve gotten help, who have said they’re moving forward, who have said they’ve been inspired…We’ve already won, we’ve already succeeded”
This makes Hill one for two on his goals, but the job is far from finished.
“I’m going to be the oldest man to play Division I college football. That’s it. There’s no other choice, there’s no other option” said Hill.