Story and Photo by Deborah Lynch
Writer’s Note: A few years ago, Jordan Hill graciously accepted my invitation to be the commencement speaker for the 8th grade graduation at Nativity School of Harrisburg, where I worked as a volunteer graduate support director. I had the great honor to introduce him. When I started to write about him for this piece, I realized that the introduction I gave that night was still a great place to start.
Steelton native Jordan Hill, the new head football coach and Director of Advancement at Trinity High School, and a former member of his high school state championship football team, Penn State defensive lineman, and an NFL player in Seattle, Jacksonville, and Detroit, doesn’t like to talk about himself. He prefers to let his actions speak for him as he gives back to his hometown community. It takes a little digging online and talking to people who know Jordan to get a clearer picture. They use these words to describe him: “Humble.” “Grit.” “Non-stop motor.” “Tenacious.” “Dedicated efforts.” “A real good effort guy.” “Jordan isn’t some big flashy guy.”
That last quote came from his mother, Sue, to a news reporter. She and Jordan’s father have been his role models, and it’s for his father, Larry, who suffers from diabetes and kidney disease, that Jordan started the Jordan Hill Foundation in 2016 “to provide youth initiatives and create[ing] a road to success” by promoting a healthy lifestyle.
Hill has always had a close relationship with his parents. As a kid, he thought his dad was hard on him, as most kids tend to feel. “He had an older style, a blue collar style of mentoring me. His relationship got stronger and stronger as I continued to grow. The two months he lived with me in Seattle, everything he had done just clicked in my head,” Hill recalled. “My goodness, it wasn’t because he was just being hard on me, it was for greater good.”
His father was diagnosed with diabetes when Hill was just 2 years old, and suffered his first stroke the week Hill enrolled at Penn State. His family protected him from knowing about his father’s condition for almost that entire first year so he could focus on school because they knew that if he found out, he probably would have left Penn State to come home to work and help out.
But he stayed and he excelled, which has allowed him to do the things in life that he’d always been guided to do. Hill formed the foundation to help keep kids active physically, socially, and intellectually. He also sought to raise awareness for the prevention of diabetes and to advance research into kidney disease. The foundation has been shifting gears since president Jermaine Chisholm’s diagnosis with ALS, and is being tweaked so that proceeds from the annual golf tournament, which was a success in 2021, will go toward one single cause this year: ALS research.
Hill’s relationship with Chisholm started out rocky when Chisholm started dating his cousin. Hill and his cousin’s brothers did not approve. As they got to know each other better and Chisholm took over as the strength coach in Hill’s senior year of high school, their relationship changed into one of mentor and mentee. “While I was at Penn State, he cared less about the athletics than the academics,” Hill said. “He was almost like my personal academic adviser. … He made sure I was doing what I was supposed to do.
“I don’t have a blood brother, but I always have said that’s my older brother,” Hill said of his relationship with Chisholm.
Hill is still doing “what [he] is supposed to do.”
He told PennLive in 2016 that his mother ingrained in him the desire to give back to his community and the people that helped him achieve his high school, college, and NFL careers. “Going out there and playing football, I know only so many people get to do that, but the reasons I play are a lot bigger than me. It’s a lot bigger than the game,” he said.
Regardless of those bigger reasons, Hill was a huge success on the field. Let’s start with high school, where he helped lead Steel High to Single A state championships his junior and senior years. He recorded 275 tackles, 19 sacks, and five interceptions in his high school career, culminating with first-team all state honors his senior year and being named a MaxPreps Small School All American.
At Penn State, during his 2012 senior season, Hill made 64 tackles — third among Big 10 defensive linemen — and finished as a first-team All Big 10 Selection, two-time Conference player of the week in 2012, earning Senior Bowl honors. He tallied 123 total tackles in 2011 and 2012.
Of course, those numbers caught the eye of NFL scouts, and Hill was a third-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks, whose coach Pete Carroll told Washington reporters of his new player, “He’s different than the guys we have. He’s got real nice quickness. … He’s a really good-effort guy, which we like. … [He is] one the best guys in the draft at creating space for himself in the pass rush.”
Hill earned a Super Bowl ring as a rookie for the 2013 championship season. He went to the Super Bowl again with Seattle the next season when they lost to New England. He had 50 tackles, seven sacks, and four fumble recoveries with Seattle. He played his last season in 2017 with Detroit before suffering a season- and career-ending bicep injury.
Yes, football is important, and make no mistake, Hill was a good football player. But he always had a bigger goal. He wanted his college degree, he wanted to make a difference, and he wanted to give back to his community. That’s why, when he was working out for the NFL combine and draft in 2013, he was also still at school, finishing out his final classes so that he could walk away from Penn State with a degree in Recreation, Parks, and Tourism Management. He took his final exams days after the NFL draft and waited to see the grades for proof that he was graduating.
“He knew he came from a poor school district, and he was humble, had grit, was blue collar, and he worked hard,” Penn State Associate Director of Football Academic Support Services Todd Kulka said. “Jordan was willing to use all academic resources coming in. He used tutors and mentors. He was always on time. He always sat in the front row in his classes. He got to know all of his teachers — in the good way. Education was important to him. Jordan is well respected by the Penn State faculty because of his work ethic, leadership skills, and motivation.”
Kulka said Hill returns every few years to give the incoming Penn State football freshmen a pep talk from the heart. Sometimes, he takes his dad Larry with him. Hill is the perfect role model for these wide-eyed freshmen football players.
“It’s neat to see him build off of what he had done at Penn State, his professional career, and now moving into his next phase,” Kulka said. “He’s using everything — the insight he’s gained from all of his experiences and platforms.”
Education and the bigger goals helped to keep Hill focused during early NFL Draft talks when he was quoted telling Blue White Illustrated that “hype isn’t anything that you have to think about. You don’t have to live up to what somebody else is saying you have to be. You have to know where you want to be, and that’s what you want to go do.”
Think about that: “You have to know where you want to be, and that’s what you want to go do.” Hill has continued to do that and, as the new head football coach at Trinity High School, he will have the opportunity to affect even more young lives with his positive spirit.
The Shamrocks were 0-7 in 2020 and 6-21 over the past three years. While Hill brings an impressive football resume to his one-time opponent, former Trinity athletic director Gary Bricker says the hire was easy. “I’ll start by saying that the references and people that talked to me [about Hill] talked more about the person than about football — not to take away from his football expertise.
“I’ve never seen a head coaching hire get as much hype about a person who has never been a head coach before. A lot of that is because of what people think about him in this area,” Bricker said, adding that while the incoming freshman class at Trinity is already one of the largest in years, adding Hill to the coaching staff won’t hurt either.
Hill is a busy man. He and his wife (and high-school sweetheart), Cristen, who is now a labor nurse at Harrisburg UPMC, are the parents of 2-year-old Annaleigh and newborn Delaney Mae. Although he had been working a day job for Northwestern Mutual in Mechanicsburg, and as the chief community officer for The Bridge, which is developing the former Bishop McDevitt High School on Market Street in Harrisburg into a mixed-use eco-village (see related story), he says that coaching high school was his top dream after playing in the NFL.
Why Trinity? Last season, Hill helped to coach at Cumberland Valley, where he got to meet a lot of Trinity alumni. The opportunity presented itself, and given that it’s a school he was already quite familiar with, it was a perfect fit.
“It’s an intriguing opportunity. I’m just really ready to get back into football and get to work,” Hill said. “This is something where I have a lot of responsibility and a lot of stuff lies on my lap. I want to be a person that’s helping kids.”
To do that, Hill is bringing back some familiar Trinity sports names while also creating a large and specialized coaching staff. Three coaches are Steelton guys (two, former high school teammates), several either played or coached at Trinity, including Tyler Kostalac, and the biggest catch is strength coach Justin Assadinia, a Penn State friend and football graduate assistant coach who played rugby at Penn State. Since then, he’s been a strength coach at Clemson, Tennessee, and Appalachian State. Assadinia will be the full-time strength coach for all Trinity teams.
Hill’s been practicing with his young squad for a few months, and is happy to report that numbers are growing. The team had 33 players last season, and is already up to 52 players for this season. “It’s a situation where it’s a very young football team that doesn’t know a whole lot about football. Every day we’re teaching, abc, 123. It’s fun because you get to start from the basics. Kids don’t have expectations. You literally get to build from the bottom up.”
Kulka thinks this is all going to translate well at Trinity. “I think he’ll have a direct, immediate impact on those he coaches in the high school setting,” he said.
For more information on the Jordan Hill Foundation, visit the website at jordanhillfoundation.org