SAN JOSE, Calif. — Stephen Hill is finally smiling again.
He may not be playing in Super Bowl 50, but the former Jets receiver is happy that he’s found a home with the Carolina Panthers.
Hill’s season came to a premature end when he suffered a non-contact knee injury during the team’s second training camp practice. The torn ligament was “devastating,” he said. Yet, Hill seems more at peace than he’s ever been.
The 2012 second-round pick hasn’t played in a regular-season game since 2013 with the Jets, but he was more than happy to cheer on his teammates from the sideline. The Panthers immediately made him feel welcome after he signed to their practice squad in Sept. 2014.
“It was just the camaraderie of the team,” Hill told Newsday during Wednesday’s availability. “It was definitely totally different than the Jets. Nobody’s selfish here, basically. Just all cool and friends.”
He said the biggest difference between the Panthers and Rex Ryan’s team was how they dealt with adversity. While the Panthers responded to a six-game losing streak last year with an 18-0 run between the 2014 and 2015 seasons, the Jets often cracked under pressure.
“It was a tense up. It was a tense up. You could tell,” said Hill, who caught just 45 passes for 594 yards and four touchdowns in two seasons with the Jets. “It was just — I mean, it was different. That’s all I can say.”
He later added: “When it comes to coaching, it was different, when it comes to players it was different. I could just feel a difference. It’s just a feel thing.
“I’m always smiling here,” he added. “It doesn’t matter what type of day it is, I’m always smiling. I had days where I was just down with the Jets. I’m not going to lie to you, I fell in love with the game of football again when I got here.”
The Jets are a work in progress under new coach Todd Bowles. And so, too, is Hill.
“I still act like a kid but I’m more mature,” said the receiver, who received a one-game suspension in November for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. “And I’ve learned a whole lot being around [wide receivers coach] Ricky [Proehl], Cam [Newton], all the receivers and especially Jerricho Cotchery. Jericho’s helped me a lot on just being a better man, when it comes to life and just watching him every day putting in work.”
His injury taught him a lot about himself as well.
“It hurt me because I was doing pretty good,” he said. “But the whole team was behind me . . .
It’s one of those learning experiences. Being patient is the No. 1 thing.”