The contrast couldn’t be more different for BYU quarterback Taysom Hill.
This winter, the junior-to-be has been named by the Sporting News as one of the top 25 college football players for the 2014 season. During the first week of February, the Touchown Club of Columbus (Ohio) flew him in for the organization's 59th annual awards banquet. The Touchdown Club named him and 11 other players to its 2014 watch list.
Last winter, things were extremely different.
“There was a lot of uncertainty with a new offensive staff, not knowing what we were going to be doing offensively,” said Hill. “It wasn’t solidified who would start and we didn’t know how my knee would recover. There were a lot of unknowns.”
Sitting in Columbus earlier this month, Hill had 1,344 yards rushing and nearly 3,000 yards passing under his belt as a sophomore — one of the top dual-threat resumes in college football. Of the Sporting News’ top 25 players for 2014, six were quarterbacks, including the top two, Marcus Mariota (Oregon) and Jameis Winston (Florida State). Hill was No. 15.
“It was really fun, a good experience,” said Hill of being flown out to Columbus. “They treated us really well and honored us. It was a great opportunity to be around great athletes from all over the country and get to know them.”
How long has it been since BYU had a QB in that kind of preseason quorum? A while.
Hill said the winter of 2014 is completely different than a year ago. “Now I’ve had a year of experience under my belt. We’ve come off a really good year. There’s a lot of enthusiasm on the team and excitement and optimism by myself in what we want to accomplish in 2014.”
For Hill, having his health is everything. BYU hadn't had a healthy quarterback stand up for an entire season since Max Hall left. Is it big that Hill stayed healthy his sophomore year? Yes, especially when one considers he ran more plays than any Cougar ever and his style of play exposed him to injury.
In 1996, the Cougars ran 1,004 plays in 15 games. In 2013, Hill and Co. ran 1,111 plays in 13 games.
Since injuring his knee in the closing seconds of a win over Utah State in 2012, he’s made a remarkable recovery, evidenced by his 2013 season.
Hill is fully able to join his teammates for 6 a.m., daily workouts. He throws with teammates two to three times a week — a regular time is established Tuesdays and Thursdays and he adds in some Saturdays. Tuesdays feature one-on-one work with receivers, running backs and tight ends. Thursdays feature a lot of 7-on-7 work. “Last week in skelly, we moved it up and down the field as we’d expected.” Every morning, Hill goes through a protocol where he throws every route in BYU’s system.
Hill is bigger and says he is stronger as winter workouts are hitting “max-out” sessions and getting into heavier weights.
“I’m stronger than I’ve ever been in my life. I feel really good and I’m running really well. I’ve put on more lean body mass this season and I’ve carried it really well, being able to move while a little bigger and stronger.”
And the team? Hill likes the leadership that has emerged since BYU's 2013 bowl game. “Guys have stepped up. They’ve showed a great will to win and to do the little things that will allow us to be successful.”
During 2013, Hill lost receivers Ross Apo and Mitch Mathews to season-ending injuries. He can relate. “Those are two guys I don’t have to worry about. I see Ross and Mitch in here every morning going through protocol and they are doing everything right. “
In the meantime, Hill is getting acquainted with 6-6 Grossmont College transfer Nick Kurtz, whom rivals.com listed as the country’s No. 4 JC receiver prospect and 247sports.com listed as the No. 8 overall recruit out of California.
Kurtz enrolled in January, shortly after the Cougars returned from the Poinsettia Bowl in San Francisco. Hill and Kurtz work out together every day.
“Nick is really good. He has the potential to be really good. The thing that will separate Nick and enable him to really be successful is he really wants to be good. He has a great work ethic; he works extremely hard in the film room learning the offense. With all those things, plus his intangibles, at this level you have to work hard to make it and that’s something he definitely has going for him,” said Hill.
Sitting suited with a tie in the Lifestyle Communities Pavilion in downtown Columbus with other college stars? A little Sporting News preseason ink? Engaged to be married?
It’s a different world for this guy than a year ago when somebody had to introduce him to most of BYU’s offensive staff.
And Hill, in as many areas as one can measure from the winter of 2013, is a different football player. His comfort zone has changed. So has his perch.
BYU's spring practices begin Monday, March 3 and conclude April 4.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at [email protected].