By Annie Rhoades
Standing on the turf beneath the bright lights of a college football stadium on any given Saturday, alumnus and SEC Center Judge Walt Hill (BBA 99) can’t think of any other place he would rather be.
“I love the whole gameday atmosphere and getting to be a part of the football game on the field,” Hill said. “Officiating is a way to be not only active in the game but actually be a part of the game. It’s been really great.”
It’s safe to say Hill is familiar with being on the turf.
Born in Chattanooga in 1975, Hill and his family relocated to Mississippi a year later when his father, Oxford High School Athletic Director and Football Coach Johnny Hill, accepted a coaching job with Holly Springs High School.
“From the time I could walk my dad was a coach, so I’ve been at football games my whole life,” Hill said.
The family moved around the state for coaching stints at Marshall Academy and Warren Central High School in Vicksburg before eventually landing in Oxford in 1989.
An avid football player, Hill graduated from Oxford High School in 1995 and began his first season with the Rebels as a walk-on linebacker the following fall under Head Coach Tommy Tuberville.
“I was in the same freshman class as Matt Luke (BBA 00), Ronnie Heard (BBA 99) and Todd Wade (BA 00),” Hill said. “All of the struggles and the wins we had on that team were very special. Stepping onto the field each week was very intense. It’s the highest level of college football, and being able to see such great athletes on your own team against your opponents on a weekly basis was pretty exciting.”
A member of Sigma Chi Fraternity, Hill received a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1999. He went on to coach at Oxford High School for two years before beginning a career in pharmaceutical and medical sales.
“I currently sell lab equipment through a California-based distributor,” said Hill. “I started out working in Nashville and Meridian before getting relocated to Oxford in 2010. I cover the Memphis territory, so I can’t think of a better place to live than Oxford.”
Hill’s passion for football never faded and with the hopes of being back on the field, he joined a local high school football officiating association.
“I’ve worked high school games, and as you progress your rules knowledge grows and more opportunities become available,” Hill said. “I feel like I’ve been blessed to be able to work in college football. I started off in college working in the Gulf South Conference, which includes Delta State. My first game was LaGrange at Rhodes College in October 2010. People watch you work, and you get asked to come to more and more events.”
In 2011 SEC Coordinator of Football Officials Steve Shaw invited Hill to attend one of his officiating camps. Fast-forward four years later, and Hill is well into week 7 of his first season as an SEC official.
“It’s very important for us to do a good job,” said Hill. “Jobs and careers are on the line, and we really want it to be a fair contest – that’s our job. We don’t always get the calls right, but we try our best. The game is so fast, and we have to make quick decisions. We train on being in the right place and making a good decision.”
Each weekend Hill travels to a different location to officiate with a familiar crew that includes his brother Chad Hill (BA 02), former Rebel baseball player.
“It’s great to get to work on the same crew as my brother,” Hill said. “We actually have four NFL officials that live here in Oxford, and then my brother and I are the two SEC officials.”
Each game Hill officiates is graded with observers present at every game. His film gets graded every week along with a review of every play.
“We constantly train, answer questions and watch film,” he said. “It’s a yearlong process. If the NFL ever came and asked me to officiate that would be great, but that’s definitely out of my control. They have people that recruit and look for talent in all the different leagues. Officiating in the SEC was definitely a goal of mine, and if I stayed in the SEC I would be very happy. It’s just fun being a part of the game.”