SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Daxton Hill stood on a sun-splashed football field last week for the first time in more than a month.
He expressed relief. The five-star safety from Tulsa, Oklahoma, signed to Michigan said he could finally relax again.
The wild ride that had been the month of December — and his change of heart, twice — was finally over.
“Just really happy for me and my family,” Hill told MLive on Friday, after practice for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. “My parents went through a lot as well.”
Hill saw some of the messages. It was the evening of Dec. 8 when he sent out the announcement on Twitter, saying he was de-committing from Michigan and committing to Alabama. It took many by surprise, the Michigan coaching staff included.
His inbox lit up. Angry Michigan fans contacted him on Instagram and Snapchat, too.
“I turned my phone off,” said Hill, who’s listed at 6 foot and 190 pounds. “And when I did have my phone on, I didn’t really care. I’m the type of person not to really care what other people think.”
Hill says he got a phone calls right away from the two Michigan assistant coaches responsible for recruiting him, tight ends coach Sherrone Moore and safeties coach Chris Partridge.
“They were just saying, ‘I’m sorry this had to happen,’” Hill said. “They were asking what went in the recruiting process. They were still going to recruit me, even though I flipped.”
And according to Hill, nothing went wrong. He just changed his mind. Alabama and its defensive backs coach, Karl Scott, had ramped up its recruiting effort with Hill, who first committed to Michigan on Sept. 8.
Then Scott and Alabama took a home visit.
“I didn’t really know where I wanted to go at that point,” Hill said. “I kind of didn’t know what I wanted to do.”
But he pulled the trigger anyway and flipped his commitment. Alabama fans celebrated. Michigan fans were enraged. The Wolverines had just missed out on the No. 1 safety in the country.
A day later, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh told ESPN’s Adam Schefter, rather defiantly, that he was not leaving for the NFL. Rumors had come up again — like they do every year at this time — about Harbaugh being a candidate for a head-coaching job at the pro level again.
Hill said the rumors had no impact on his decision to commit to Alabama.
“No, not really,” he said. “It was how I felt, really. It wasn’t anybody outside the family. (We) just kept it inside the family.”
Hill, who starred at Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa, said he leaned on his parents often during the long, arduous recruiting process. He had scholarship offers from more than two dozen schools, including Clemson, Florida and Georgia, and had the opportunity to stay home like his older brother, Justice, and play at Oklahoma State (and Oklahoma).
But he found home to be Michigan. After the Wolverines offered him in May, 2017, Hill took two visits to Ann Arbor, including an official visit in September for Michigan’s game against Southern Methodist.
He says he liked the coaching staff. The academics side was a plus, too.
“Afterwards, I talked to my family and I’m like, ‘I think that’s the place for me,’” Hill said. “I just talked to my parents and others and I had no doubt that was the place for me.”
Which made the early-December flip to Alabama all that more curious. The gap in time between his flip and Hill signing his National Letter of Intent to Michigan on Dec. 19 was only 11 days, and truthfully, Hill says he made the decision to go back to Michigan a few days before that.
He just didn’t want to cause more commotion.
“I wanted to fly under the radar,” he said. “Didn’t want to put anything out. Just fly under the radar — that was the best thing for me.
“I didn’t want anybody to think I would (flip again).”
So, what convinced him to change?
“Just a change of heart, really,” Hill said. “I just felt like that was home for me.”
Two days before the start of the early signing period, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh went on his weekly podcast and promised “fireworks” that week. NCAA rules prohibit coaches from discussing potential recruits publicly, so he couldn’t discuss Hill or his status at the time.
But the first day of the early signing period arrived and sure enough, Hill sent in his signed National Letter of Intent to Michigan. No explanation at the time. Just a retweet from the Michigan football team’s Twitter account announcing Hill’s signing.
“They were really happy,” Hill said of Michigan’s reaction. “I know that I was one of the top (recruits) on their radar, so it was good to be back. I’m glad they accepted me.”
Hill is expected to come in this summer and compete for playing time at safety. Michigan will have to replace Tyree Kinnel, who exhausted his eligibility after the 2018 season, and find someone to play next to Josh Metellus in a revamped defensive backfield that also lost David Long.
His speed and athleticism gives Hill a good chance to play right away. He also received quite the compliment from Harbaugh last month, too.
“He’s got great contact courage and may be the fastest guy on the field,” Harbaugh said after signing day. “Even with his height, the last couple of games he was the fastest guy out there. I think he can be that in college, a big-time safety.
“He’s a low-key guy. Doesn’t like a ton of attention. I love his humility that way. He’s got it set up to be one of the best safeties we’ve ever had.”