Tyreek Hill’s position on Oklahoma State’s official online roster says it all.
The junior college transfer is not listed as a running back, kick returner or receiver. The uncommon description “athlete” sits beside his name while the rest of his Oklahoma State teammates have been pigeonholed into a specific position.
In his breakout debut against Florida State, the label fit Hill perfectly. He ran around Seminoles defenders with devastating speed on one play, then broke between the tackles for a short gain on the next. FSU’s defenders experienced something Oklahoma State defenders learned a long time ago while trying to chase Hill down during practice.
“The angles are definitely different,” linebacker Ryan Simmons said of trying to corral his teammate in practice. “[One time] he got a sweep play and one person missed [their assignment on] the edge and nobody was touching him.”
That exceptional speed was on display last weekend as Hill turned on another gear multiple times against the Seminoles to pull away from a defense known for its speed and athleticism.
“I’ve never coached anybody as fast and as explosive as Tyreek is,” offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said of Hill, who earned All-American honors in indoor track last spring and is the reigning Big 12 indoor 200-meter champion.
The Cowboys coaching staff knew Hill had blazing speed before his debut game with the Pokes, which included 278 all-purpose yards as he stuffed the stat sheet with 140 kick return yards, 62 receiving yards, 44 rushing yards and 32 punt return yards in a 37-31 loss to the Seminoles. He averaged 12.2 yards per touch against FSU on 22 total touches. But his durability and toughness was on display for the first time in a game as he showed he’s not a track guy who plays football; he’s a football player who excels on the track.
“We knew what we had there,” Yurcich said. “You’re always concerned with durability, and when it’s live and in color, it is different. Those questions were answered. He did a great job for us. He was really tough and physical.”
The disappointment of the loss was softened by the realization that Hill was living up to the hype that he carried in the season as the Big 12’s Preseason Newcomer of the Year. Now, the Cowboys task is to make sure not to overload the Georgia native by putting too much of the playmaking burden on his shoulders every Saturday.
Seeing Hill make an impact in the season opener in four different ways would make anyone dream of the options at Oklahoma State's disposal. Yet Yurcich knows he has to be smart about how he uses Hill, as a healthy Hill could be the difference between a win or a loss in conference play.
“We just have to be careful,” Yurcich said. “The funny thing is he’s so hungry and he wants to play. From an offensive coordinator’s standpoint, it’s hard to say no to that. It’s going to be up to the running backs coach, the special teams coach or the head coach to say 'whoa' for me not to call upon No. 24.”
Running Hill between the tackles won’t become the focal point of Oklahoma State's offense, particularly with Desmond Roland's ability to excel in that role. The Cowboys' preseason goal of getting Hill 15-20 touches per game will focus on maximizing his opportunities in the open field in one-on-one situations with defenders.
“You have to pick and choose,” Yurcich said. “You have to make sure those touches are meaningful and the right kind of touches. We don’t want to jam him in there with nine guys in the box.
“We’ll try to keep him in space as much as possible.”