Running back Wes Hills is headed to the desert.
The 2013 Wildwood High School graduate signed with the Arizona Cardinals Wednesday as an undrafted rookie free agent.
Hills, 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, will participate in the Cardinals’ rookie minicamp this weekend after signing a contract Thursday.
“I’m catching the first flight on Thursday morning, and I’m counting the hours,” Hills said Wednesday evening in a phone interview. “Playing in the NFL is something I’ve been dreaming about since I was a little kid, and now I’m finally going to have that opportunity.”
He becomes the third local rookie to join a team in the last two weeks. Millville running back Ryquell Armstead was drafted in the fifth round by Jacksonville. Millville linebacker Anthony Stubbs signed as an undrafted free agent with Cleveland.
Hills played three seasons at the University of Delaware before finishing his college career last fall at Slippery Rock University, where he rushed for 1,714 yards and 17 touchdowns.
He also impressed NFL scouts and coaches during the offseason. He was named MVP of the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl after rushing for 78 yards and a TD on 10 carries and also broke off a game-high, 21-yard run in the Senior Bowl.
After getting bypassed in the draft, Hills attended Seattle’s rookie camp last week on a tryout basis but was not signed.
“It was a little disappointing not to be drafted,” Hills said. “Bottom line, every played wants to be drafted. But all I’ve ever really wanted was an opportunity to show what I can do and now I’ve got it.”
He joins a Cardinals organization that’s undergoing major changes under new coach Kliff Kingsbury. They drafted Oklahoma University quarterback Kyler Murray with the first overall pick, then traded quarterback Josh Rosen to Miami.
The Cardinals did not draft a running back, but signed Xavier Turner from Tarleton State as a rookie free agent. Hills will be trying to earn a roster spot as a backup to Pro Bowler David Johnson. His ability to play special teams will help his cause.
“Special teams has always been a part of my game,” Hills said. “It’s something I’ve been doing since I played for Wildwood (High School) and even before that. As a running back, I get hit on almost every play, so it’s nice to be able to run down there and do the hitting once in a while.”
Hills becomes the 11th local player on a NFL roster, joining Chicago defensive tackle Abdullah Anderson (Absegami), Armstead, Cincinnati linebacker Brandon Bell (Oakcrest), Tampa Bay quarterback Joe Callahan (Holy Spirit), Atlanta defensive lineman Jack Crawford (St. Augustine Prep), Los Angeles Rams offensive lineman Jamil Demby (Vineland), Miami tight end Mike Gesicki (Southern Regional), Cincinnati long snapper Clark Harris (Southern Regional), Tennessee defensive tackle Austin Johnson (St. Augustine) and Stubbs.
After the Cardinals hold their rookie camp, they will also have a series of Organized Team Activities and a mandatory full-team minicamp in June before opening training camp in late July.
“I’ve never been out there, but I’ve heard it can get pretty hot,” Hills said with a laugh. “I’ve been drinking a lot of water, but I better drink even more to make sure I stay hydrated. I’m just so excited about this. My dream is finally coming true.”