Four years after arriving with impressive football credentials from Clovis West High -- and as the son of Fresno State's head coach, no less -- this isn't where Zak Hill wanted to be Wednesday.
Dressed in red shorts, a T-shirt and a black brace wrapped around a surgically reconstructed left knee, he stood near the north goal post of the Bulldogs' practice field.
The safety helped coach his defensive teammates, for he had no other means of contribution.
Not on this day. Not today. Maybe not tomorrow. And who knows for his senior season.
"There's no way to project," he says.
Early in camp a year ago, Hill's left knee blew up -- torn anterior cruciate ligament, dislocated patella (kneecap) and cartilage damage -- wiping out his season.
Today, the knee's fine, but the rest of the leg isn't, specifically a defiant hamstring that's prohibiting him from running at top speed.
And as Pat Hill -- his father and coach -- says, "he needs to open up to play safety. It's been a long grind and it's hard to come back from those things."
It took running back Clifton Smith, for example, two years to make an impact after suffering a similar injury at Fresno State in 2005.
Zak Hill doesn't have two years. The clock's ticking. And where's the justice?
One of the team's top safeties at the time of the injury, he's never started a game as a Bulldog, and chances are he never will given the fragile leg and the team's excellence at the position in junior Phillip Thomas and sophomore Derron Smith.
"It's not really about justice," Zak Hill says. "It's football. It's just part of the game. But it is frustrating. You bust your butt, you're declared the starter and it's your job to lose."
And what a horrific way to lose it: "Definitely the lowest point of my athletic career."
The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder says the hamstring problem is a minor and almost predictable setback, given the increased demands on the leg in practice, and that he'll play in the season opener against Cal on Sept. 3 at Candlestick Park.
Regardless, it seems his future projects better off the field than on it.
"Zak has prepared well for life after football," his dad says.
He's already taken the Medical College Admission Test -- a computer-based standardized examination for prospective medical students.
"I love surgery," he says.
Just not his own, not that he pitied himself following the procedure last August.
"A lot of athletes get hurt, feel sorry for themselves, sulk and go backwards," Pat Hill says. "Then there are those who find other areas to develop. And, for Zak, it's full speed ahead."
This isn't to suggest that his son had conceded, that he's content to close his college career without having made a difference: "I'm not concerned. I'll be back. It's a long season."
He also says he's not troubled with what could be a natural hang-up for someone in his position -- to justify, after four years, a scholarship given by his dad.
"I have nothing to prove but to myself," he says. "I just want to play, and I know I can play. I'm tired of the setbacks. What I miss most is playing with my friends, the camaraderie. That's something you can't replace."
- Junior starting H-back Tapa Taumoepeau has been lost for the season with a torn ACL suffered Tuesday.