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ASU Football: Hill honors country, military as team’s flag bearer

A four-year stint in the Air Force and a two-year run in JUCO ball later, Christian Hill is the Sun Devils’ flag bearer.

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Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Christian Hill sees things from a fuller perspective than most. One could easily figure why, and not solely because of the defensive lineman’s six-foot-five, 285-pound stature.

Hill was raised by his single mother in Kansas City, Mo., and after high school became a member of the U.S. Air Force—just six years ago. Four years later, he was playing junior-college football.

Today, he’s a member of the Arizona State Sun Devils football program. The trek hasn’t always been easy.

“Quiet leader,” defensive line coach Joe Seumalo said of Hill. “Leads by example. Everything’s important to him.”

Head coach Todd Graham and his staff are well aware of Hill’s subtle-but-earnest leadership qualities. That in mind, the group asked the former airman to carry out the American flag as the team sprints out of the tunnel before the Sun Devils’ home games.

Graham said bearing the flag is Hill’s honor to do, calling him a fitting person. He doesn’t plan on bucking the trend any time soon, either.

“It means something to me when I see him carrying that flag,” Graham said. “It’s something he takes a great deal of pride in.”

Hill says it’s an honor, particularly in representing the men and women that have died for the country.

“It’s a pleasure,” he said. “Spending my six years in the Air Force, I have pride in this country. It’s the pride of what we do, it’s the freedom of what we stand for, and what we fight for.”

Upon running out of the tunnel with the country’s banner in his hands for the first time, Hill said he felt a rush.

“The feeling overcame me,” he said. “It was a lot.”

One could say he’s the perfect candidate to carry the flag, too.

Not only has he served in the Air Force, but Hill has perspective of the symbolism behind the flag and what it stands for. When asked about recent protests involving the country’s Stars and Stripes, he gave an honest, impartial answer.

“You have the freedom of speech, so personally for me—being a man that served this country—honestly, I frown upon that,” Hill said. “(But) it’s something we shouldn’t have to be going through. Definitely, being a black man, I look at the situation, and I just hope for better days.”

The response is altruistic, appealing to how well-versed and experienced he really is.

Hill’s seen much in his 24 years, and it’s well-documented just how momentous the journey for him has been. He says his foundation through this point is best encapsulated by his mother’s teachings of being a great leader even prior to his days in the service.

“She established dreams and goals,” Hill said. “Every day working hard, working hard at every thing we do. Not giving half at anything that’s right in front of you. I’m very thankful for my mother.”

The principles of hard work he was taught at home translated to his time in the Air Force. It was while a part of the branch during which pillars of selflessness and teamwork were ingrained.

The goal for everyone: To support the mission.

“Every piece and key is like a bigger picture,” Hill said. “Every piece fits in to make a bigger picture, and all we’re doing is mission support.”

Having served in the military, playing football at Arizona State almost made too much sense. The revered Pat Tillman—who left his NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals to fight in Afghanistan during the summer of 2002 following the September 11 terror attacks, and was killed in action by friendly fire in 2004—is intertwined within the program's branding.

Hill says he's felt a connection throughout his time at ASU, saying there's much that comes with honoring Tillman's legacy of both serving and playing football.

"It’s a lot of pride," Hill said. "A lot of people look up to you as far as the leadership, and far as the little things that people look up to you for that you need to accomplish."

The mentality of playing any role necessary to aid a bigger cause is one Hill has carried from his time in the Air Force to the football field.

Hill has contributed in just about every phase of the game this season, playing along the defensive line, on offense as a H-back/tight end, and even on special teams. It’s a prime example of his selfless versatility.

He says his offensive and defensive roles and learning under Seumalo and tight ends coach Del Alexander, in particular, have been “a great thing.”

"Seeing the different coaching styles of two coaches is a beautiful thing," Hill said, "They emphasize the same dream, the same vision that coach Graham has, (but) it comes from two different aspects.”

Teammates—from both sides of the ball—noted his discipline and effort.

Sophomore defensive lineman JoJo Wicker said there’s much to take from observing Hill’s work ethic.

“He brings a lot of different characteristics as far as leadership,” Wicker said. “He believes in discipline and getting after it, so I take that from him, and I respect him.”

Junior running back Kalen Ballage—whose record-setting rushing performance was keyed by Hill’s blocking efforts out of ASU’s “Sparky” formation—said Hill holds a protector’s “aura.”

“Anything the coaches ask him to do, he does it,” Ballage said. “He’s a great teammate.”

Hill said he views himself as a small piece of the picture, but understands the importance of doing his part in order for the whole to succeed.

“(It’s about) understanding that it’s not about myself, but it’s about a whole entire team,” he said. “(It’s about) what I need to do and need to accomplish to be a great asset or just to be a piece of that picture.”

The Sun Devils’ flag bearer may be a small piece of the picture, but his character protrudes an image of nobility taller than his larger-than-life frame and fully embodies the Sun Devil Way.