PROVO, Utah — Watching Taysom Hill on one of the first days of BYU’s fall practice, you’d think he was a sure-shot NFL quarterback prospect. His arm looks lively, and his 6’2″, 230-pound, linebacker-like frame shows no signs of limitations or wear as it glides across the field.
You’d never guess the reality. This is not your typical student-athlete. This is a 26-year-old married man coming off his third season-ending injury in four years.
Hill’s season ended in 2012 with a left knee injury, in 2014 with a broken left leg and last season with a Lisfranc injury to his right foot, suffered in the first half of his team’s first game.
What’s it like to have the sport you dream of playing professionally betray you repeatedly? How and why has Hill kept at it? Heading into his final season of college football, does he consider the journey to have been worth it?
Hill spoke to Bleacher Report’s Adam Kramer on these topics. This is his story presented in his own words, edited for length and clarity:
I remember the play. It was the beginning of the second quarter against Nebraska, and we had a little option route called. I took the snap and got to the back of my drop. They brought a corner blitz, and the middle linebacker just took off. As a mobile quarterback, when you see that, it’s game over.
I thought to myself, Let’s take it. So I hit that third step, took a little stutter and exploded off my right foot. It’s a move I’ve used maybe 1,000 times. But this time it was different.
Why? I’ve watched the tape over and over. Maybe the way I came down on it was a little awkward.
When I exploded forward, it felt like my foot was on fire. I felt the ligament pop. In that moment, I knew it wasn’t a sprained ankle. I’ve done that before.
I thought to myself, Did this really just happen? I was in shock. I’d had a conversation with my wife before that game. I told her there was no way I could be unlucky enough to have three season-ending injuries.
I had felt so confident heading into the season. I didn’t think there was anything that could stop me.
I wasn’t just going to fall down and quit. I was able to finish the run and scored the touchdown. People asked me if I hurt my foot because I stopped in the end zone so quickly. I told them that I stopped running because my foot was on fire.
I went over to the trainers. They saw the bones separating from each other, and they knew right there in the moment what it was.
My brother-in-law, Craig Bills, did the same thing at his pro day. When they told me it was a Lisfranc injury, I knew exactly what that meant. My season was over.
At that point, I had a decision to make. Our team doctors told me that what was done was done—that if I went back out and played, there wouldn’t be any additional risk of further damaging the foot or of hurting my knee because of instability.
My wife came down from the stands and into the locker room. We made the decision together that I would go for as long as I could, knowing it was going to be the last time I would play that season.
They used tape to take the place of the ligament and brought the spacing closer together. I don’t know what hurt worse: the fact that my foot was so tightly squeezed or the ligament itself.
Every step was painful. I wouldn’t say it got worse. It was just bad throughout. I gave it what I had for the next couple of quarters. I wanted to give the team everything that I had. I wanted to put us in a position to win.
It was hard to focus on what was going on with the game. There was this constant throbbing in my foot. Every second. I gave it my all, but our doctors finally said it was too much. I came out in the fourth quarter, and we won on a Hail Mary by Tanner Mangum, who came in to replace me.
After the game, we celebrated. For a while, I kind of forgot that I was done for the season, and I was able to relax. Then, at the end of the celebration, Coach [Bronco] Mendenhall handed out a few game balls and said a few words about me knowing I was done for the year. That’s when it really sank in.
I had the surgery, and then it was a lot of down time. I couldn’t really do anything. I think that’s when I questioned it the most. Not being allowed to put any weight on my foot for three months brought me to the brink. I never want to do that again.
Eventually, I progressed. I was able to walk in a boot. Then I did some ankle flexibility and strengthening exercises. I spent a lot of time standing on a foam pad. It was a lot of really tedious work, and unfortunately, I had been through it before.
I really have to give a lot of credit to my wife for her support during this time.
There was something really simple she said that had a big impact. We were talking about what to do next—whether we should try our luck in the NFL, whether I should transfer or if I should just be done with the sport entirely—and as we were going through all of the scenarios, she said it wasn’t fair that I was robbed of my college career and senior season. She pushed me to keep going. She made it very clear that she would love and support me no matter what I did.
My mentality is to take care of my family. I knew I needed to make sure that she is taken care of. If I was going to give up football, there were very few things that I would be OK with giving it up for. She’s one of them.
Once I knew I had her support, it made the decision easy.
I thought about leaving the program. Once Coach Mendenhall and his staff left, that was initially my mindset. It made most sense at that point to transfer, not knowing what was going to happen here.
I was having conversations with other programs. They knew that. But at the end of the day, I am a BYU guy. It’s how I ended up here. It’s why I love this place.
I am a football player, and I want to have a great senior season. After having all of those conversations, I still feel like BYU is the place where I can do that.
The NFL is definitely a goal of mine. It’s something I think about. I want to make football work for me.
But I also understand the progression of goals. I know that when I do leave football, I need a plan.
I don’t want to bank on the sport, because I know that injuries happen. I know things in the NFL are unpredictable. I want to make sure that in any situation, I always have a backup plan.
The best advice I received came after my junior year. We had started 4-0 and were ranked before I broke my leg and tore ligaments in my ankle that year. I got a phone call from Jim Harbaugh. He was with the 49ers at the time, although he had recruited me at Stanford. We had stayed in contact.
He told me he knew I was like him, and that for people like him and me, it didn’t matter what we were competing in—we just have to compete. He talked about when he got injured at Michigan. He couldn’t compete on the football field, but he could compete in the classroom.
So I went and competed in the classroom. I got straight A’s that semester.
I made sure I got into a good program and studied finance. When I got injured my junior year, I was actually interviewing for internships. I got a couple of job offers and ultimately decided to go to a venture capital firm in Salt Lake City.
I had a great experience there. I have plenty of things to step into if football doesn’t work. But I have the rest of my life to work.
In finance, we’re always learning about hedging our risk. And I feel like that’s what I’ve done. If I get injured on the football field again, I’m not just stuck wondering what will be next. I know what will be next if football doesn’t work out.
I need to make plays at BYU if I am going to have the opportunity to play at the next level. To be honest, I don’t pay attention to what’s being said or the hype. I know I need to take care of things I can control, and that’s how well I play this year.
In years past, I had individual goals. But what I realized through my injuries is that none of that matters. I want to play. All I want to do now is win football games.
I feel confident that if I play well and we have a winning season, there will be an opportunity after BYU. But more important than any of that is the experience itself.
This cannot be replicated. I am going to take advantage of it for as long as I can.
Everything I have been through has only made me realize how much I love the game, how much I love the guys around me and how much I love playing in these environments.
I hope people will someday remember me as the ultimate competitor.
Ever since my freshman year, after my knee injury, people have asked me what I would do to stay safe and injury-free.
When I was young, I would try to give the right answers. I’m going to try to slide. But at the end of the day, I finally realized that I am going to do whatever it takes. I’m going to leave everything out there.
That’s all I want to do. I just want to win football games.
Adam Kramer covers college football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter at @KegsnEggs.
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Source: Bleacher Report-CFB News