ATLANTA — For Stephen Hill, there's no escaping the expectations.
At 6-foot-5, he towers over the cornerbacks assigned to defend him. He's faster than most of them, too. You know, another Calvin Johnson — or at least the second coming of Demaryius Thomas.
Maybe it's finally working out that way.
Hill is off to a fast start for Georgia Tech (2-0), providing the sort of deep-play threat that was missing during a disappointing sophomore season. He worked out harder in the weight room, focused more on his classwork and got rid of some negative influences in his personal life.
The results are obvious. Hill already has as many touchdowns (three) and more receiving yards (307) than he had all of last season. He's averaging nearly 44 yards per catch heading into Saturday's game against Kansas (2-0).
"Stephen is a playmaker," quarterback Tevin Washington said. "We just want to put the ball in his hands and let him try to make a play."
Hill didn't make many plays a year ago, certainly not as many as the Yellow Jackets expected. He was the successor to Thomas, a first-round pick of the Denver Broncos, and next in Georgia Tech's receiver lineage that previously featured Johnson, the NFL's second overall pick in 2007.
At first glance, Hill seemed to have many of the same physical skills as the two guys who came before him. He was as tall as Johnson and fast enough to set a state long jump record in high school, with a leap that would've been good enough to finish ninth at the Beijing Olympics.
Of course, size and speed don't matter if one has trouble catching the ball. Hill needed more strength in his upper body, and his confidence went downhill early in the season when he dropped a sure touchdown pass at Kansas, contributing to an upset loss. He finished the season with only 15 catches for 291 yards.
Hill was the poster child for Georgia Tech's disappointing 6-7 season.
"He took some beatings," said senior running back Roddy Jones, who has known Hill since high school. "He had some struggles and people weren't too nice to him during those struggles. But we all rallied around him, and he did great job of shaking that stuff off and really focusing on himself, on realizing his poential."
Hill concedes he was too worried about filling Thomas' shoes.
"There was pressure on me last year," Hill said. "Now, that's all behind me. He's in the NFL and I'm here.I've got something to do. He can't do it for me. I'm me. I've got a new type of swag. I'm bringing something new to the table."
Hill's teammates noticed the pressure he put on himself, trying to live up to the receivers who came before him.
"It's not fair," Jones said. "Just because he's a tall, fast receiver, that doesn't mean he's going to be the next (Thomas). We just need him to be Stephen. Stephen will be plenty good enough for us."
Coach Paul Johnson said the biggest changes came off the field.
"He grew up and matured over the summer. He got his personal life in order. He committed to playing," Johnson said. "Stephen had to make some decisions. He got squared away and committed himself to working hard, going to school, all the things he needed to get squared away. And he's grown up. Sometimes we forget these are just kids. They have to grow up and mature."
Hill acknowledges that he has to get away from "certain things, certain people." While vague on details, he clearly seems to be playing with a new purpose.
"Stephen always had a lot of ability," Johnson said. "But there was a lot put on him year ago. I don't know if he was ready for it. He didn't start out well and kind of nosedived. But his confidence is up and hopefully he will work hard and continue to produce like he has."