There was something about the way Kansas City Chiefs rookie and former Coffee Trojan Tyreek Hill darted into the end zone for his first NFL touchdown Sunday afternoon against the San Diego Chargers. It looked routine enough – quarterback Alex Smith took the snap and looked to his left, in Hill’s direction. Hill took a step off the line, Smith fired a strike to his lightning bolt of a receiver, and Hill did the rest. With a nice barrier of blockers in front of him, Hill eluded a couple of Chargers and scored the Chiefs’ first touchdown of the season.
Yes, Hill wanted to score. Yes, his team needed a shot in the arm. Trailing 24-3 late in the fourth quarter, Hill’s touchdown swung momentum in the Chiefs’ favor and sparked a comeback that ended with a Kansas City victory in overtime. But something else was happening, almost a cleansing of past transgressions, as Hill crossed the goal line.
Tyreek Hill has made headlines since he attended Coffee High School. Back then, he was one of the fastest high school sprinters in the country and almost single-handedly won a state track championship for the Trojans his senior year (Coffee finished second with Hill accounting for exactly 90 percent of his team’s points). Among his list of accomplishments were USA Today All-America in track and field 2012, the 2012 High School Athlete of the Year according to Track and Field News, and 4.25 40-yard dash. Hill has personal bests of 20.14 in the 200 meters and 9.98 in the 100 meters. He also won gold in the 4x100 meter relay and bronze in the 200 meters at the Junior World Championships in Barcelona.
Everyone knew he was a rare talent but he hadn’t really had the opportunity to shine on the football field. In spite of his world class speed, his senior season, in 11 games, Hill carried the ball just 88 times. He had the ability to single-handedly change a game in an instant; for reasons that have never been explained, he was never given the chance to showcase just how good he could be with the ball in his hands.
Division I schools wanted him for both football and track. Academics, however, prevented him from going directly to the biggest stage of college athletics. Hill first went to Garden City Community College in Garden City, Kansas (almost 400 miles from where he took the field in his first NFL game Sunday), where he spent two years with the Broncbusters. From there, Hill enrolled at Oklahoma State University and proved to be an invaluable member of the Cowboys’ football team. His one and only season in Stillwater was a memorable one – he amassed 1,811 total yards and three touchdowns, including a 92-yard punt return to tie Oklahoma in the closing minutes that led to an overtime OSU victory. He was later named the Big 12’s Offensive Newcomer of the Year.
Less than a week after winning that award, Hill made headlines again – this time for all the wrong reasons. He was arrested on a domestic violence charge, dismissed from both the football and track teams, and eventually left Oklahoma State. His arrest left everyone scratching their heads. How could someone with such talent make such a poor decision?
Hill insisted it was an isolated incident, one that he would not repeat. He had his skeptics, his detractors, those who wanted to see him fail. Hill joined West Alabama for the 2015 season and led the team in touchdowns. He earned All-America status and stayed out of trouble. The Chiefs took a chance on Hill and selected him in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Kansas City received more than its fair share of criticism for choosing Hill. The NFL has taken a strong stance against domestic violence over the last several years, and many pundits didn’t think someone with Hill’s past should have a place in the NFL.
The Chiefs defended their rookie and deflected all the questions coaches and executives received. Their reply? That’s not who he is. He’s a different person than he was then. Just give him a chance.
I don’t profess to know Hill very well. In fact, I’ve only spoken to him once, when he was a senior in high school. I interviewed him for In the Game High Magazine. It remains my one and only face-to-face encounter with him. But I know people who have talked to him recently. They all say the same thing, that the Tyreek Hill of today is not the Tyreek Hill of two, three, four years ago. There is a maturity about him that only comes from walking into a storm and making it out of the other side. Hill has been given a second chance and that is something that is not lost on him at all.
Simply making it through training camp and the preseason was difficult enough. Though several Trojans have been drafted or signed free agent contracts with NFL teams, only one has ever played in a regular season NFL game – Willis Crockett, who spent two injury-plagued years with the Dallas Cowboys of the early 1990s. When Hill stepped on the field Sunday afternoon, he became the second member of a two-person fraternity.
I can’t imagine the emotion that he felt as he stood on the sidelines before the game. I do think you can see a glimpse of those emotions in his nine-yard touchdown run. He weaves his way into the end zone in characteristic Hill fashion – always in a hurry, ball held high on his chest and right forearm, never giving defenders an opportunity to get a firm grip. But there’s something more, an added sense of urgency, in the way he ran. It’s almost as if he was running from something, that getting into the end zone would somehow erase transgressions of the past.
I don’t think Tyreek Hill’s journey is over. In fact, I believe it’s just beginning. He still has a long way to go. But ever since that fateful night in Stillwater, Oklahoma, he’s made all the right decisions and done things the right way. I like what I’ve seen from him so far and I think he has a great career ahead of him. “It was just a blessing to be able to score my first touchdown,” said Hill after the game in a video posted on www.kansascity.com.
It was also a blessing for those of us who are pulling for him. Sometimes life is about second chances. Tyreek Hill has gotten his. And he’s making the most of it.
- Trojans fall 56-28 to Cartersville Purple Hurricanes, finish with 10-3 record
- Trojans take down Decatur Bulldogs 51-23 in second round
- Trojans break the Mustangs 34-6 in first round, head to Decatur next week
- Tyreek Hill: From Jardine Stadium on Friday to the record books on Sunday
- Coffee falls to Ware, Trojans head into playoffs as #2 seed