|College:||Central Washington '04|
The coach of the top player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision in 2011, Zak Hill enters his fourth season as Eastern’s full-time quarterbacks coach after serving as a student assistant coach for the Eagles in 2004 and 2005.
He spent the 2010 season teaching Southern Methodist University transfer Bo Levi Mitchell 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.
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 ranks 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.
Most importantly, Mitchell was 13-2 as a starter at Eastern in 2010. Six times Eastern rallied for victories when trailing or tied in the fourth quarter, and most of the time, it was Mitchell who led the Eagles back from the depths of despair. In addition, 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.
In 2009, Hill coached record-breaking senior quarterback Matt Nichols, who finished fourth in the voting for the Payton Award given to the top player in the FCS, 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.
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 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.
Eastern head coach Beau 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.
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 was 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 33 during Eastern’s bye week in the 2012 season. He and his wife Hollie were married on July 14, 2007.