The coach of some of the top quarterbacks in the history of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, Zak Hill enters his seventh season as Eastern’s full-time quarterbacks coach. He also serves as passing game coordinator and pro liaison, and previously was a student assistant coach for the Eagles in 2004 and 2005.
In his eight total years at Eastern (2009-14, 2004-05), EWU has ranked in the top 10 in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision seven times in passing, five times in total offense and on four occasions in scoring.
In 2014, the Eagles broke school and Big Sky records with 618 points and 84 touchdowns. The Eagles established a school record for average points per game with a mark of 44.1 to rank first in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. En route to finishing 11-3 overall and winning the outright league title at 7-1, EWU also ranked third in FCS in total offense (513.4) and second in passing offense (328.6).
In both 2013 and 2014, he helped Vernon Adams Jr. finish as the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year and runner-up for the Walter Payton Award presented by The Sports Network to the top player in FCS. He also helped Jordan West go 3-1 as a starter in the absence of Adams, as West completed 61 percent of his passes for 1,072 yards, nine touchdowns and just one interception in seven games.
As a team in 2013, EWU led FCS in passing efficiency (school record 182.6), and was fourth in total offense (533.5 per game), fourth in passing (349.8), 41st in rushing (183.7) and seventh in scoring (39.5). Adams and All-America wide receiver Cooper Kupp helped the Eagles break 48 school records, 23 Big Sky marks and 12 FCS records.
In 2012, Hill coached a pair of new quarterbacks in the Eastern program – Adams, a redshirt freshman, and Southern Methodist University transfer Kyle Padron. The Eagles finished second in the league and seventh in FCS in passing offense (318.9 per game), as Adams and Padron combined to lead EWU to the school record for passing yards with 4,469. Adams, who earned Freshman All-America honors, ranked fourth in FCS in passing efficiency (160.80), and was the only freshman in the top 24 of the rankings. In nine games as a starter and three as a sub, he completed 60.9 percent of his passes for 1,961 yards, 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions. In back-to-back games in the FCS Playoffs, Padron and Adams each had a school-record six touchdown passes.
In the previous two seasons, another SMU transfer, Bo Levi Mitchell, was EWU’s quarterback. Hill taught him how to play within EWU’s offense, and the results were sensational. After leading Eastern to a national title in 2010, Mitchell won the 2011 Walter Payton Award presented by The Sports Network to the top player in the NCAA Championship Subdivision. He led EWU to a 19-7 record in two years – the most wins in back-to-back seasons of any starter in school history until Adams bested that with 23.
In 2011, Mitchell led the FCS in four categories, including passing yards (4,009) and touchdown passes (33) on his way to breaking four school records. He broke EWU’s record for single season passing yards with 4,009, which at time ranked 17th in FCS history and fifth in Big Sky Conference history.
In 2010, Mitchell was selected as the Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Division I Championship Game, as EWU won the national title with a come-from-behind 20-19 win over Delaware. Mitchell completed 59 percent of his passes to finish with 3,496 yards, a school-record 37 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions as a junior. Eastern was 3-0 in games when All-America running back Taiwan Jones did not play, and Mitchell had 11 touchdowns and 932 total passing yards in those games. He directed Eastern on 11 touchdown drives of at least 63 yards in those three games, including three in the national championship game.
Mitchell led the Calgary Stampeders to the 2014 Grey Cup title by completing 25 of 34 passes for 334 yards to earn game MVP honors. Mitchell entered the 2015 CFL season 16-2 as a starter for the Stampeders.
In 2009, Hill coached record-breaking senior quarterback Matt Nichols, who finished fourth in the voting for the Payton Award, and was also the Big Sky’s Offensive Player of the Year for the second time in his career. Nichols earned prestigious first team NCAA Football Championship Subdivision All-America honors from the American Football Coaches Association, as well as three other All-America honors.
Nichols broke 14 school records and six Big Sky Conference marks in his 47-game career (45 as a starter) before playing in the East-West Shrine Game and signing a free agent contract with the Dallas Cowboys. He passed for 3,830 yards and 33 touchdowns as a senior, giving him a total of 12,616 yards and 96 touchdowns in his career. His career yardage total ranks sixth in FCS history and his touchdown total is 10th. Nichols now plays for the Edmonton Eskimos.
A record-breaking quarterback himself from 1999-2003 at Central Washington, Hill spent the previous three seasons as a coach at Hillsboro High School in Oregon. After two seasons as offensive coordinator, Hill took over as head coach and led the Spartans to a 6-5 record in 2008 to advance to the first round of the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) Class 5A playoffs.
Prior to that, he served as an offensive assistant under then EWU offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin in the 2004 and 2005 seasons when the Eagles had a collective 16-9 record, won a pair of Big Sky Conference titles and advanced to the NCAA Championship Subdivision Playoffs both years. Among the quarterbacks he helped coach was Erik Meyer, who won the Payton Award in 2005.
Baldwin was quarterbacks coach at Central during Hill’s freshman, sophomore and junior seasons. In 38 career games at Central, Hill re-wrote the Great Northwest Athletic Conference record books. En route to breaking more than 20 league records, he passed for 8,882 career yards (233.7 average per game) while completing 60.2 percent of his passes with 76 touchdown passes. He had 11 total games with more than 300 yards passing and 24 with at least 200.
After redshirting in 1998, he played seven games as a freshman in 1999 as Central finished 4-5. He earned All-Columbia Football Association honors in 2000 as Central was 5-5, but a knee injury limited him to two games in the 2001 season.
In 2002, Hill led Central to an 11-1 record as the Wildcats ranked fifth in NCAA Division II before losing in the first round of the playoffs. He passed for 2,694 yards in nine games, completing 209-of-308 passes for a school and league-record .679 completion percentage. He had 22 touchdowns, was intercepted only seven times and had a passing efficiency rating of 160.4. He was a third team All-America selection (Football Gazette) and earned a trio of All-Region awards. The 2002 Central team was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2013.
As a sixth-year senior in 2003, Central was the preseason No. 1 team in NCAA Division II as selected by Sports Illustrated, but the Wildcats finished just 6-4. He passed for 2,325 yards and 24 touchdowns, completing 187-of-320 passes with nine interceptions. For the second-straight year, he earned first team All-Great Northwest Athletic Conference honors.
Hill is a 1998 graduate of Prairie High School in Battle Ground, Wash., where he lettered twice in football and three times in baseball while accumulating a 3.73 grade point average. He was team captain as a junior and senior, and twice earned all-league honors. He played football for his father, Butch Hill, who is a member of the Hall of Fame at Central Washington. His father was a two-time All-America pitcher at Central with 17 career victories (1967-68), and also played quarterback for four seasons. He passed for 2,210 yards and accounted for 24 touchdowns (13 passing and 11 rushing).
Hill was born Sept. 14, 1979, in Portland, Ore., and will turn 36 five days before EWU hosts Montana State on Sept. 19, 2015. He and his wife Hollie were married on July 14, 2007. Their daughter, Valerie Ann (2), was born on Feb. 21, 2013.