I was really high on BYU before the mission, so that was the first place I looked. Luckily, there was an opportunity for me to play here. I did the things necessary to find out where I needed to be. I made that decision and haven't looked back. —BYU quarterback Taysom Hill
PROVO — Taysom Hill was in the Los Angeles Airport last December — on his way home to Idaho after serving a mission in Sydney, Australia, for two years — when he found out that sophomore quarterback Jake Heaps was transferring from BYU to Kansas.
Months earlier, Hill had already decided to enroll at BYU.
Hill was a star quarterback out of Highland High in Pocatello when he signed a national letter of intent with Stanford, and then-coach Jim Harbaugh, in February 2009. That was before Hill experienced a change of heart and signed a scholarship agreement with BYU in April 2011.
"There were a few things that transpired while I was in the mission field," Hill recalled this week. "One of which being coach Harbaugh going to the San Francisco 49ers. Then they also didn't allow incoming freshmen to come until June or August because of the academics at Stanford. At that point, I began to question a few things and see what else was available to me."
Stanford's coaching staff wanted Hill to come home five months early from his mission so he could be on the Cardinal team for the 2011 season, he said. But Hill didn't want to do that, meaning he would have to wait to begin classes at Stanford until June 2012.
Eventually, Hill chose BYU, which allows incoming freshmen to enroll in January.
"I was really high on BYU before the mission, so that was the first place I looked," Hill said. "Luckily, there was an opportunity for me to play here. I did the things necessary to find out where I needed to be. I made that decision and haven't looked back."
Hill, a 6-foot-2, 218-pound freshman, is already making an impact for the Cougars.
In BYU's 30-6 season-opening victory over Washington State, Hill threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kaneakua Friel on a fourth-and-1 play early in the second quarter.
"I wasn't surprised when they called my number. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to play," Hill said. "It was a great way to start a college career."
Hill could see action again Saturday (1 p.m. MT, BYUtv) when the Cougars host Weber State.
At the time Hill chose to attend BYU, in the spring of 2011, the the Cougars were log-jammed at the quarterback position, with a returning starter, Heaps, as well as backups Riley Nelson, James Lark, and Jason Munns on the roster. Plus, BYU had recently secured a verbal commitment from another Idaho prep QB star, Tanner Mangum.
Meanwhile, two months earlier, quarterback Alex Kuresa had signed with the Cougars. And about one week after the announcement about Hill's decision to come to BYU, another quarterback, Ammon Olsen, who played at Southern Utah before serving a mission, also signed a scholarship agreement with the Cougars.
By next year, seniors Nelson (the current starter) and Lark (Nelson's backup) will have graduated, while Mangum (who is grayshirting) and Kuresa (who has been playing wide receiver since fall camp) are expected to depart for the mission field, leaving Hill, Munns and Olsen (who is now the scout team quarterback) to battle for the starting job.
Back in April 2011, it appeared that Heaps would be BYU's starter for the next three years. Instead, Heaps left BYU after a turbulent 2011 season and enrolled at Kansas.
Hill arrived at BYU in January and immediately made an impression on coaches and players with his athleticism and work ethic. He participated in spring ball and made strides.
"It's been a great experience since I got here in January," Hill said. "There's a lot of great opportunity here."
As a freshman, Hill knows he has plenty to learn. But he also knows he has plenty of resources to draw from as he develops. He is surrounded by several current and former BYU quarterbacks, including Nelson, Lark, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman, and student assistant Max Hall.
"I love coach (Bronco) Mendenhall and coach Doman. It's fun having Max here and having Riley and James to learn from and work under and get myself ready to compete," Hill said. "Riley and James have been good for me. They've helped me in any way that they can. They've been here and they know the system. I'm constantly picking their brains and finding out what they're seeing on the field as I go through reads and progressions. I've had many film sessions with just Riley and I where we've gone in and watched film. I'll continue to do that and just become the best quarterback that I can."
Hill said the BYU offense suits his skills.
"I love it. You can't come to a better quarterback school. Coach Doman is a great coach. He's been great to get me comfortable with the offense and the plays. I love running this offense."
It didn't take long for Doman to find a role for Hill.
"He's kind of a multi-dimensional guy, an athletic guy, a backup quarterback role. That's where he is," Doman said. "He's helping us in a lot of different ways. As he improves and gets better, that will expand. He's helping us already."
Cougars and Wildcats on the air
Weber State (0-1) at BYU (1-0)
Saturday, 1 p.m. MT
LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM