PARSONS — It’s National Football League trivia time.
Who is the lone active quarterback in the NFL who grew up and played high school football in Kansas?
The answer is Parsons native Shaun Hill, who has found a home as a backup with the Detroit Lions. He heads to training camp later this month for his 12th season, including his fourth year behind starter Matt Stafford.
“I’m going into my 12th year and if you asked me at any point, from my childhood all the way up to now, I never would have never guessed I would get 12 years in the NFL,” Hill said Tuesday during the Shaun Hill-Parsons Police Youth Football Camp on the practice field behind Parsons High School. “I feel very fortunate to have had the career I’ve had thus far and obviously, not everything’s gone my way.
“But so goes life, I guess. It’s been a great journey.”
It has been an improbable yet gratifying ride for a guy that wasn’t heavily recruited out of high school. Hill won the starting quarterback job over five others at Hutchinson Community College after originally being recruited there as a punter.
Transferring to the University of Maryland, Hill led the Terrapins to the 2002 Orange Bowl during his senior year. He finished his two-year career with 3,158 passing yards, 19 touchdowns and a No. 10 ranking at the end of the season. With Hill behind the controls in 2001, the Terps won their first Atlantic Coast Conference title since 1985.
Moreover, Hill wasn’t selected in the 2002 NFL Draft, left to toil in obscurity, battling to hang on for a roster spot in training camp after signing a free-agent deal with the Minnesota Vikings. Hill played for the Vikings from 2002 through 2005, buried on the depth chart behind Daunte Culpepper and Brad Johnson.
“Some guys get drafted and they get thrown into the mix right away,” said Hill, who spent the spring of 2003 with the Amsterdam Admirals of the now-defunct NFL Europe, leading the league in passing yards and tying for second in touchdowns.
“I went undrafted. I didn’t throw my first pass in the NFL until Week 14 of my sixth season. It took a while, but to be honest, I don’t think I would have been ready if I was thrown in my rookie year. Everybody kind of has a different route they take when they get there, a different path.”
After signing with the San Francisco 49ers in 2006 and sitting third string behind 2005 No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith (now with the Kansas City Chiefs) and Trent Dilfer (now retired), Hill finally got his chance late in the 2007 season after Smith and Dilfer were shelved with injuries.
Hill made his 49ers regular-season debut on Dec. 9, 2007, completing 22 of 27 passes for 181 yards and one touchdown in a loss to his former team, Minnesota.
In 2008, the year Hill signed a three-year contract, Smith went on injured reserve, leaving J.T. O’Sullivan at first string and Hill competing for the starting job as his backup. After former 49ers head coach Mike Singletary was named as interim coach after Mike Nolan was fired during the season, Hill subbed for a struggling O’Sullivan during a game, was effective and named as the starter by Singletary for the rest of the season.
Ironically, O’Sullivan, currently a free agent, holds the record for the most NFL teams as a player at 11.
One of Hill’s more memorable games came in Week 3, against the Vikings. Hill was 15-for-25 passing for 195 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. After he led the 49ers to a go-ahead score near the end of regulation, the legendary Brett Favre threw a 30-yard touchdown pass with two seconds left to rally Minnesota for the win.
Hill broke his career single-game record for passing yardage in a 35-16 win over the St. Louis Rams, throwing for 213 yards and two touchdowns while running for a third and being named as NFC Offensive Player Player of the Week.
In Week 12, Hill got his first career 300-yard passing performance in a setback to the Dallas Cowboys.
For the season, Hill finished with 2,046 passing yards on the season, completing 181 of 288 balls.
After Smith came off the injured list and regained his starting position for the 2009 season, it was Hill’s last with the 49ers as he was traded to the Lions on March 14, 2010, in exchange for a seventh-round pick in the 2011 draft. Hill signed a one-year contract with Detroit on July 12 of that year and has been there ever since, locked in as Stafford’s backup.
“Obviously, everybody wants to be starter,” said Hill who passed for a career single-season high 2,686 yards on 257 of 416 passes, also highs, after Stafford was shelved for the 2010 season because of a shoulder injury.
“There were a couple situations in San Francisco that weren’t ideal, so I was kind of excited to be in the situation I was in at Detroit, where everything was kind of set in stone and everybody knew their roles and I was able to accept that. You still try to be the best that you can be.”
Not bad for a guy whose first love wasn’t football while he was a kid growing up in Southeast Kansas.
“I didn’t make all-state and I didn’t play in the Shrine Bowl,” Hill said. “I was more known for basketball in high school here in Kansas. I was three-time (Class 4A) all-state in basketball and obviously, honorable mention was included in that.
“Basketball was my first love, baseball was my first sport and I ended up playing football. That’s just kind of the way it worked out. I considered (basketball), but after my senior year in football and kind of getting into the basketball season, I really missed football and that’s the path I wanted to take.”
For Hill, it has been a journey of twists, turns and unexpected thrills.
“Obviously, I had to take the long road,” Hill said. “I had to go to junior college. I was recruited by a couple Division II schools as a punter and tight end and a safety, but none as a quarterback, so I went to junior college at Hutch) and tried to develop my skills there and moved on.”
Hill, who is in his final year of his contract with the Lions this season and will make $2.4 million in 2013, refused to hint on how many more years he’d like to play.
“I’m 33 now and will be 34 at the end of this season,” Hill said. “It all depends. I’m just taking it year-by-year at this point and trying not to make any decisions too early or too late. I think I will know when it’s time. I don’t think it’s going to last until my mid-40s.
“The difference in backup quarterbacks is that you need to perform on Sundays without getting any reps during the week. The starter gets those. You’ve got to be mentally into every practice during the week, so that you can learn the offense and learn what they’re doing against a particular defense. A lot of guys that are very, very talented quarterbacks are unable to be backups and make careers out of it because of that simple thing.”
• HEAVY HEART
Hill experiences a kaleidoscope of emotions every time he comes back home.
Maybe now more than ever.
His father, Ted, tragically died after an accidental fall on Jan. 31, 2011, at the Lake of the Ozarks, Mo. It came less than a week after Shaun was inducted into the Quarterback Club Hall of Fame at Hutchinson CC.
“Obviously, I spent a lot of time on this field,” said Hill, as he remembered his father, who was Parsons High’s girls’ head basketball coach before becoming the boys’ head coach, along with being promoted to assistant principal and later principal. “My father was the assistant football coach and my elementary school is a stone’s throw from this field.
“Going to school every day (as a youngster), this is where I would come and watch football practice. He was the head basketball coach, so in the winter, I would sit in the gym and watch ... I have spent a lot of hours on these grounds here and it brings back some memories.”
Sharing an inseparable father-son bond, Ted was like an entire grandstand, cheering on Shaun, both mentally and physically. Without his father, there has undoubtedly been a void.
“Obviously, it’s tough,” Hill said. “When it first happens, you wonder if you’re ever going to feel normal again. It’s just weird. It’s different. Everybody (in the family) is doing well, and we think about him every single day.
“I got to spend 31 years of life with what I believe to be one of the best fathers ever, and I’m very fortunate for that. We miss him and we think about him often.”