The New Orleans Saints beat the Atlanta Falcons 26-18 on Thanksgiving to get to 10-2.
Pocatello native Taysom Hill had a blocked punt, a receiving touchdown and a rushing touchdown in the game, but another player from East Idaho also contributed.
Tight end Josh Hill, from Blackfoot High and Idaho State University, had one catch for 2 yards, giving him at least one catch in 10 out of the Saints’ 12 games this year. His 19 catches so far this season are a career-high.
While Josh Hill usually doesn’t have the same week-to-week impact as Taysom Hill (the two are not related), he’s had a more impressive career than the Highland High alum in at least one respect.
In the famously unsentimental world of the NFL, Hill is one of the longest-tenured Saints.
Of players originally drafted by the team, only punter Thomas Morstead and defensive end Cameron Jordan have been around for longer than Hill, who the Saints picked up as an undrafted free agent in 2013.
Hill and offensive lineman Terron Armstead are the only players from that 2013 draft class still with New Orleans.
“It’s been a really blessed journey for me and my family, to be able to play in one spot for a substantial amount of time,” Hill told the Journal. “We really enjoy it here, we enjoy the people, we enjoy the city, obviously we enjoy the team, so it’s been a positive thing to be able to stay in one spot.”
Hill signed a three-year, $8.85 million extension with the Saints last year, not bad for an undrafted free agent.
To get to that spot, Hill had to work his way up.
He played over 60% of the Saints’ special teams snaps each of his first three years in the league.
“I knew that was my way in the door, was special teams,” Hill said. “So whatever they asked, I was willing to do, and then just try to pick up on some technique, because I didn’t play many special teams (at Idaho State). Just focusing on some things that I hadn’t done a lot of, and trying to get good at it quickly. ... I had a young family coming in too, so I had plenty of motivation on my side.”
Carving out a niche on special teams allowed him to hang around long enough to see his role on offense steadily grow. Hill went from playing 16% of the Saints’ offensive snaps in 2013, his rookie year, to 25% and then to 37% his third year.
In 2016, his fourth year, he finally played a larger percentage of snaps on offense than he did on special teams, and he’s been on the field for over 50% of New Orleans’ offensive snaps for the three years after that, including this year.
“He’s been invaluable for us because he literally does so many jobs. He’s a complete tight end,” Saints tight ends coach Dan Campbell told Luke Johnson of NOLA.com when Hill signed the extension. “We ask him to do a ton, from blocking to pass protection. We ask him to pass protect one-on-one with defensive ends, and then we ask him to block the point of attack with a D-end. And then we’ll ask him to run the seam, or we’ll throw him a screen pass.”
Hill’s longevity has also come with perspective. The Saints went 11-5 and made the playoffs his rookie season before suffering through three straight 7-9 years. Since then, they’ve returned to the top of the NFC, including posting a 13-3 record last year.
Of course, they lost in the NFC championship Game to the Los Angeles Rams on a crucial uncalled pass interference penalty.
For everyone on the Saints, it was tough to go into the season not thinking about it, but Hill, as expected, had a very veteran take.
“We came to terms with what happened last season, we had to move on from it,” Hill said before the season. “Maybe use it as motivation if that’s what an individual wants to do. We’ve just got a lot of really good playmakers, and a lot of guys that are willing to accept a role that’s not an all-star, guys that are just willing to do what it takes to win.”
At 10-2, the Saints are proving him right so far.