Hill, a small but powerfully built receiver who grew up in a Los Angeles suburb, is studying politics with a concentration on statistics and spent a semester focusing on urban issues in São Paulo, Brazil; Barcelona, Spain; and Cape Town, South Africa.
And Johnson, a sturdy linebacker from Davenport, Iowa, is majoring in economics and studio art. He studied in Rome last spring and spent the summer working on a Grinnell tribute to Mollie Tibbetts, a University of Iowa student who was killed last year in a case that played into wider national debate about immigration.
What the players want is to have as rich an experience on the field as off it.
“What we’re saying is: Invest as much as you’re doing in academics or internships with football,” Hill said.
Any hope that this season might have been different evaporated quickly. Grinnell lost to its opener to Lawrence University, 28-0, and the next week was routed at Lake Forest, 44-0.
With an open week, the six seniors on the team met to discuss their circumstances: Three players were lost to season-ending injuries, another half-dozen were out for the near term, and their depth chart had only one backup for each position group except quarterback. They could not practice against a scout team because there weren’t enough players for a scout team.
Still, the seniors decided they would pour everything in to their next game, a home matchup against Macalester College that they thought could be competitive.
It was not. Grinnell lost, 42-3.
The seniors told their coach, Jeff Pedersen, that they would meet that Sunday to discuss whether they should go on. The next game was to be played at St. Norbert, which pummeled Grinnell last season, 91-0. And the one after that was against Monmouth College, which thumped Grinnell last year, 55-0.