Some players see the NFL as a way to escape from inner-city turmoil. For Will Hill, it didn't take him far enough away.
The safety who grew up in East Orange, N.J., and played for the Giants last year conceded Sunday that he might have been better off signing with another team in another part of the country. He spoke about relatives treating him "like an ATM" and being held up with a shotgun in his hometown since signing with the Giants as a free agent last offseason.
"Everyone reaching their hand out . . . people who think you owe them something," Hill said. "How do you deal with those situations? I really can't, so I dealt with it the best way I knew how."
He turned to drugs. Marijuana, he said.
"I've been through so many stressful times growing up the way I grew up, it was second nature, basically," he said of the drug use. "Growing up, walking down the street, people putting guns in your face and things like that is stressful. You really don't know how to deal with situations like that when you're faced with them."
Hill was suspended without pay for four games for violating the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse. He said he failed "a lot of" drug tests last season -- typically players are not suspended until after a third positive test -- and tried to fight the suspension until the league denied his final appeal.
It's his second four-game suspension in less than a year. He had to sit out for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances during the 2012 season. "I had a lot of stress from my environments and [drugs were] the only way I knew how to cope with it until I got with the team and they put me in some clinics and stuff and helped me out," Hill said.
He spent several weeks at a treatment center in Boston this spring and continues to attend an outpatient facility in Parsippany, N.J. All, he said, at the urging of the Giants. "It wasn't forced upon me," Hill said. "They asked me if I wanted to go and I did. I definitely wanted to get away from here for one. The stressful situations didn't go out there [to Boston]."
Because of the confidentiality aspects in the NFL policy neither the league nor the team can comment on the details of Hill's suspension or his treatment.
The Giants signed Hill last spring knowing that he had a checkered past. He ran afoul at the University of Florida and entered the draft in 2011 but was not selected because many teams were concerned about his character. He spent that entire season out of football. He spoke about turning his life around when the Giants gave him an opportunity at their rookie minicamp in 2012 and then signed him to a free-agent contract.
The team could have cut ties with him but didn't. "We were disappointed and hopefully Will is going to get his life straightened out, " coach Tom Coughlin said.
Said Hill, "I talked to my team and they just told me to keep moving forward and keep being positive. Just take the full suspension and leave it at that. Just don't have any more mishaps."
Hill has been playing with the third defensive unit at camp. If not for the suspension he might be with the second team. "I see there is a drastic change," he said of his playing time.
But is there a drastic change in Hill? He sounds like it, just as he sounded like it a year ago. And now he sees playing for his hometown team as more than just a curse. "It's a blessing to be here and I know right versus wrong," he said. "The Giants helped me the best way they could. They got me help and helped me see other ways to cope with my problems."