PROVO — Twice in the past three years, BYU quarterback Taysom Hill has endured a season-ending injury in early October.
As Hill enters his senior campaign, he has learned important lessons amid the setbacks. For him, this is another opportunity to play college football. Hill plans to savor every moment and see himself, and his teammates, reach their potential.
"I’ve got another year to showcase what I can do as an athlete, as a quarterback and (we) as a BYU football team, so let’s make the most of it," Hill said during BYU's media day in June. “I feel like I’m a smarter player because I was able to watch (the game) from a birds-eye view. The biggest thing that I learned is, this opportunity is so small, I’m going to make the most of every chance that I get. This will facilitate the opportunity to become better … Realizing that I’m in such a small window of opportunity, I’m not going to be able to replicate this experience at any other time of my life. Having that mentality will help me be a better football player.”
The Cougars open fall camp Saturday, and kick off the 2015 season at Nebraska on Sept. 5.
One of the biggest questions surrounding the program is: Can Hill stay healthy? It’s a pertinent question, considering he’s missed 15 games since 2012 due to injuries.
Though he's experienced frustration in the wake of the season-ending injuries, Hill has emerged with a positive attitude and a healthy perspective.
“At the end of the day, you can choose to be bitter (or) you can choose to say, ‘Hey, yeah, this (stinks), but let’s make the most of it,’" Hill said.
Last October, Hill suffered a fractured leg and torn ligaments and underwent season-ending surgery. While Hill was limited during spring ball, in May he was cleared to fully participate with his teammates.
“What’s been the funnest part for me is being able to do everything with the team,” he said. “For so long I remember watching games on TV in a boot, in a cast. Now we can build that team camaraderie. I’m back with the guys. We get to get better together.”
During his time away from the field, Hill has worked hard to hone his skills.
“Hopefully, I can continue to have a long career playing quarterback, and after college,” he said. “The things that I’ve concluded is, I’m always going to need to work on decision-making, I’m always going to work on timing, and I’m always going to need to work on accuracy. With my injury, it created opportunities for me to do quarterback-specific drills without having to run. I’ve been doing that for a long time.”
Still, Hill admits he was born to run. Running the ball is always going to be part of his game, and it’s a risk he is still willing to take.
“This is how I play football,” Hill said. “This is how, as an offense, we can be as good as we can. I’m still going to run the football.”
He added that he will continue to execute the zone read. “There are a lot of variations off the zone read,” Hill explained. “I anticipate us doing different sets to limit the runs.”
Coach Bronco Mendenhall knows a delicate balance must be struck between allowing Hill to maximize his talents while protecting his health.
“Taysom will continue, on any given play, to try to take over the game if he thinks it’s going to help us win,” he said. “Our job is to develop a structure that limits the number of times he has a chance to do that, but also gives him occasional freedom to do that when necessary.”
Mendenhall, quarterbacks coach Jason Beck, and new strength and conditioning coach Frank Wintrich traveled to California to visit renowned arm specialist/guru Tom House’s 3DQB facility in an attempt to help Hill improve. House has worked with NFL quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Alex Smith, Carson Palmer and Tim Tebow.
Beck, Wintrich and Mendenhall brought back “a lot of different workouts,” Hill said, and he's implemented all of them.
Hill’s teammates are thrilled about Hill's return.
“Our quarterback, the most dominant player, the guy who touches the ball every play, is healthy,” said wide receiver Mitch Mathews. “When he’s on the field, it’s hard to beat us. It really is. Then once you put so much focus on him, you put less focus on the receivers and (running back) Jamaal (Williams). It makes it tough for people to stop. If we stay healthy unlike we did last year, we’ll be hard to beat.”
What will allow Hill to remain healthy?
“His way to stay healthy is, if the ball gets out of his hands faster, the healthier he’ll be,” Mathews said. “The focus of timing, precision, accuracy, anticipation from his receivers has become even more important to him because he wants the ball in our hands and the more the ball is in our hands, and completed, the healthier he stays and the more dominant we are. If you run a cover-two against our offense, he’s going to run all over you. And if you go man-to-man, that’s our specialty as receivers. When he’s healthy and on top of his game, we’re hard to stop.”