Anders Hill saw the big picture when he went from Fairview High School to Columbia University in 2014.
He saw promise. Promise that, in addition to securing an Ivy League education, he might one day be part of something special for a Lions football team that had two feet firmly at the bottom of the barrel that was the Ivy League standings before he came in as a freshman.
Through plenty of trials over his first couple of seasons, that special campaign finally played out in 2017 with Hill being a major catalyst of the potential revival of Columbia football.
It took a new head coach after his freshman season in which the Lions went 0-10. It took having three offensive coordinators in the first three years — and having Mark Fabish be the first to be retained in Hill's senior campaign. It took having to push past not being named the starting QB as a sophomore even though all signs pointed to that happening at the time.
Yet, after Columbia went 8-2 this season and challenged for the Ivy League title, Hill certainly feels like he finished his college career the right way.
"There were a lot of highs this past year and I think it made up for a lot of lows that I experienced early on in my career," Hill said this week, returning to Boulder between school semesters. "What's cool about it is, I don't think it's just a flash in the pan and that Columbia football is going to be competing year in and year out for league championships.
"Even though I'm no longer going to be playing with them, I'm super excited to see how well they will continue to do and so glad to have been a part of it."
Hill wasn't just part of the process that brought the Lions eight wins for the first time since 1996 — and it had been 11 seasons since they were even .500 (5-5) to close a season. Hill proved to be one of the leaders of the movement.
The rise to prominence was a gradual one, to be true. Even in coach Al Bagnoli's first two seasons (2015 and 2016) the Lions were 2-8 and 3-7, respectively. This was a team, however, that had lost 21 straight games entering Hill's sophomore season when Bagnoli took the reigns.
Those few wins established a base that no one could have predicted would turn into such an incredible run in 2017. For Hill, however, a couple of things came together — a group of teammates that had come from winning programs in high school blossoming and a coaching staff that believed in them collectively.
"Changing the culture of a team to a winning culture doesn't happen overnight. I think we all knew we could be good but putting it all together and doing the little things to pull out close wins, it takes a while," Hill said. "Everyone in my freshman class, I think we were coming from some pretty good high school programs ... we came from that winning mentality and it came down to being able to transfer that."
Having finished high in Colorado's all-time single-season passing marks in the fall of 2013, Hill's collegiate career really took off as a junior under the guidance of coach Ricky Santos — a former Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) player of the year.
Hill took over as the full-time starter in the third game of 2016 and he started the final 18 games of his career, establishing a school record this past season with a 63.4 completion percentage while accounting for 2,407 yards and 16 touchdowns through the air.
Hill's play on the field is only part of the story. Not only did he earn Academic All-Ivy League honors each of the past two years, but this year he was named as one of 181 national semifinalists for the William V. Campbell Trophy, which is presented to the player that best represents himself and his team through on-field play, academics and community leadership.
Talk about special.
"I always valued the academic progression going from a great school at Fairview to Columbia, and for me being a semifinalist for the Bill Campbell Trophy meant a lot as far as recognition for a lot of hard work," Hill said, noting Campbell is a Columbia alumnus.
Summer internships, an Ivy League classroom work load and football prep for hours upon hours a week — looking at that, one could say Hill a largely ready for everything life slings his way beyond graduation.
That said, Hill is not ready to give up playing football and in fact has looked into hiring in agent to help him find the right path to keep that dream alive.
"I can't say enough about the game and everything it's taught me, so I might as well try and play it as long as I can," Hill said.