, Tom Smart, Deseret News
PROVO — At the start of fall camp one year ago, BYU quarterback Taysom Hill was a freshman, a recently returned LDS missionary and a third-stringer.
That was then.
When the Cougars opened fall camp for the 2013 season Saturday, much of the attention was fixed squarely on Hill. He’s now the starting quarterback, and a team leader, with plenty of expectations riding on his shoulders.
Hill, who was surrounded by a cadre of reporters after Saturday’s practice, understands how much things have changed over the past 12 months.
“It’s extremely different,” he said. “I’ve been able to experience this offseason through spring and summer as we structured our workouts and player-run practices. Everything we did this spring and summer has transformed into fall camp. It’s a different feel. I’ve got a really good relationship with the guys I’m playing with. Because of that, I’m able to talk to them if they’re not going as hard as they should be, and they respond to that. It’s been a fun, unique challenge and I’m up for it.”
Offensive coordinator Robert Anae was impressed by what he saw from Hill in the first practice.
“Taysom’s done his work,” Anae said. “His body is a machine. He looks like an NFL safety. His conditioning test was no problem. He’s fast. He’s mobile. And he has a nice touch on the ball.”
“Well, I feel like I’m where I was last season, but coach Anae saw me just after (knee) surgery,” Hill explained when told of Anae’s comments. “I was just trying to get myself in the best shape I could be in. If that looks like an NFL safety, I’ll take that as a compliment.”
In addition to looking lean and strong, Hill is sporting a large brace on his left knee — the same knee that he injured at the end of the Utah State game last October.
Asked if he will wear the brace throughout fall camp, Hill said, “That’s the plan. I’m doing everything I can to get out of it.”
Hill added that the brace is “not too bad” and said it’s “a little restricting. But as far as all the movements I need to make on the football field, I’m able to do them.”
While Hill flew under the radar during fall camp last year, he wasted little time making an impact on the field in 2012.
In the season opener against Washington State, he was inserted into the game as the “wildcat” quarterback when BYU was sitting in the red zone early in the second quarter. Hill surveyed the defense, called an audible, rolled out right and threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kaneakua Friel.
Not a bad debut. Hill’s first pass as a Cougar resulted in a TD.
A few games later, he engineered a drive that led BYU to its only touchdown against Boise State. Then he became the first true freshman quarterback in BYU history to win his debut as a starter in a 47-0 thrashing of Hawaii. He improved to 2-0 as a starter one week later with a victory over Utah State. However, he suffered a season-ending knee injury at the end of that game.
Following months of rehab, Hill is healthy and ready to guide the Cougar offense.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall said Saturday that Hill’s “leadership is off the charts.”
In the final drive of that first practice, Hill completed a 45-yard pass to Skyler Ridley, who made a diving catch.
“As we progressed through practice, we got more of a feel and started to jell,” Hill said. “Skyler went and made a great play. That’s what we’re going to do moving forward.”
Hill said that he spent a lot of time during the offseason with his stable of receivers, including Cody Hoffman, JD Falslev and Mitch Mathews.
“My timing with the receivers is the best that it’s ever been,” Hill said. “Cody wasn’t there during (spring drills), but we had a lot of time during the offseason to work together. Our timing is there. The drive at the end of (the team session) showed that.”
With just weeks to go before the Cougars open the 2013 season at Virginia, Hill said there is a sense of urgency to learn how to execute Anae’s high-tempo offense.
“For the first day, we made a lot of plays and we made some mistakes. There are areas we need to focus on and get better. As a whole, I was pleased. Looking forward to Monday and continuing to improve,” Hill said. “Everybody is looking forward to Aug. 31 as we prepare for Virginia. But everybody knows we’re not where we need to be to beat Virginia right now. We need this time to get there.”
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