FLORENCE — Michael Hill has a busy weekend scheduled.
The Missouri Western State running back will join the other two finalists at tonight’s banquet to find out whether he is this year’s Harlon Hill Trophy winner.
He’ll then leave later that night in order to travel back to his school’s St. Josephy, Mo., campus so he can walk in his graduation ceremony Saturday at 11 a.m.
“It’s a big weekend,” Hill said. “It’s just an honor to be here with these guys. These guys are awesome. I’m having a blast.
“It means a lot to be here,” Hill said. “Of course, this is a goal for a lot of people. To say you have that as a goal and then to get here is crazy for myself. There was a lot of hard work put into this.”
Hill rushed for 2,168 yards and 16 touchdowns on 311 carries this season. That makes him the Griffons’ all-time leading rusher with 4,969 career yards.
It was a significant improvement over his 2011 single-season total of 1,305 yards on 265 carries as a junior.
What changed had something to do with more than just himself, he said.
“The program as a whole got better after last season,” Hill said. “We lost in the first round to Northwest Missouri State twice in a row. That really motivated us. We wanted more than that. We got back in our indoor facility two weeks after the regular season last year and went to work.
“It was the hardest I worked in my life and pretty much the whole team was in there, too.”
One of 23 seniors, Hill led the Griffons to a 6-0 start to this season before they dropped their homecoming game 31-30 to Missouri Southern State. It was one of two games Hill didn’t crack 100 yards rushing.
“We were 6-0 and there were a bunch of undefeated teams, but we ended up losing in the final minutes,” Hill said. “We knew we had to put our foot on the pedal at that point.”
The Griffons went on the road the following week and throttled defending Division II national champion, then seventh-ranked Pittsburg State, 63-14, behind Hill’s 113 yards rushing and four total touchdowns.
That started a six-game winning streak against ranked teams, including a 21-20 win against 2009 national champion Northwest Missouri State to finish the regular season and a 57-55 triple overtime playoff-opening victory against 2010 national champ Minnesota Duluth before falling to Minnesota State-Mankato 17-10 in the quarterfinals.
“We didn’t play our game against Minnesota State, but we had a great season,” Hill said.
In all, Hill rushed for 150 yards in eight games this season and broke 200 twice. One of those, a 259-yard performance against Washburn, came 20 yards shy of breaking the school’s single-game rushing record.
“It was senior day, and there was a lot of emotion,” Hill said. “It wasn’t just me, it was the entire team that played their butt off. We went out there and just executed. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
If things go his way, the next two days could provide a couple more milestone accomplishments.
Bryan App can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @bappster on Twitter.