Once a suburbanite, not always a suburbanite.

Though he lives in Blue Bell and attends Germantown Academy in nearby Fort Washington, Ian Hillman will spend his college years in So Nice They Named It Twice.

The 6-5, 230-pound defensive end, a senior, has made an oral commitment to Columbia.

The wheels began turning last summer, when he attended a camp at another college and caught the eye of a Columbia assistant.

"He said I should come up and check it out," Hillman said. "I never could have seen myself in a city setting. I said I'd do it, but I was saying to myself, 'I don't think I'm gonna like this.' ''

First unofficial visit: Hmm, not bad. Second: Geez, who would have thought?

"I just really got the feeling I could see myself there," Hillman said. "Then, when I took my official visit, everything I thought I believed was confirmed. I fell in love with it. Instantly.

"There's such a great mix in New York. So many interesting people and lots of job opportunities. Everything you could want. In my intended field, economics, it just makes sense to be there."

As he acknowledges, Hillman is not a finished product.

"I have to gain about 15 pounds and get a little bit stronger," he said. "After that I should be fine.

"I liked what the coaches told me. I believed them when they said they were going to make significant improvement and turn things around. I want to be part of that."

Hillman earns A's and B's in classes that include advanced-placement offerings.

Penn, Dartmouth, Georgetown and Lehigh also were recruiting him. In fact, he was slated to visit the latter this coming weekend.

"I told them I'd found what I wanted in Columbia," he said. *