BYU QB Taysom Hill charges full speed ahead into season

PROVO, Utah - Taysom Hill has never been one to ease into anything.

He's a head-first guy all the way, his commitment and purpose as rock-solid as his sculpted 6-2, 230-pound body, and that's whether he's barreling down on a safety at the goal line, serving his Mormon mission in Sydney, Australia or completing a presentation while studying in BYU's rigorous finance program.

So while others may wince when they survey the gauntlet that is BYU's September schedule, Hill has a different perspective. The Cougars' senior quarterback hasn't played a football game in nearly a year. He broke his left leg and shredded ligaments in his ankle in the second quarter of the 35-20 loss to Utah State last Oct. 3, ending an unbeaten start to the season for BYU and what appeared to be a Heisman Trophy run for Hill.

Just like his freshman season, when he tore knee ligaments, his junior season was also over before the first trace of colder weather set in along the foot of the Wasatch Mountains.

With one last shot, it's only fitting that Hill dives right back into the fray and does so against some of the most storied programs in all of college football.

"Honestly, I wouldn't have it any other way," Hill said of the Cougars' grueling September slate that begins with a trip to Nebraska on Saturday, followed by a home date with Boise State and then two more road trips to UCLA and Michigan.

"This is what we want. It gives us a chance to showcase what we're capable of against Power Five talent or whatever you want to call it. We didn't get a chance to finish what we started last year. We're just excited, all of us."

Raised in Pocatello, Idaho, Hill learned the importance of finishing things a long time ago. It was a staple in his family and the chief reason he's at BYU now and not Stanford. Hill signed with the Cardinal and then-head coach Jim Harbaugh in 2009, but spent the next two years in Australia on his mission. While on his mission, Hill discovered that Stanford didn't allow freshmen to enroll midyear. Harbaugh had already left for the San Francisco 49ers, and the new staff wanted Hill to cut his mission short by four or five months, enroll in August (of 2011) and redshirt that season. The plan was to groom him to take over for Andrew Luck.

"My whole thing was that I had committed for two years on my church mission in Australia," Hill said. "I didn't feel right about saying, 'Hey, I'm going to bounce four or five months early.' The more I thought about it, the more I knew BYU was right for me. I could have come home when I did in January, worked out until June and started summer school at Stanford, but I didn't want to have all that dead time. It was an easy transition here, and I don't have any regrets."

Well, except for the injuries.

And, ironically enough, it was a phone conversation Hill had with Harbaugh after being injured last season that helped Hill stay focused during some of his darker recovery times.

That's about the time Hill's cell phone rang. On the other end was Harbaugh, who had reconnected with Hill after coming to Salt Lake City to speak at a business function in 2012.

"Look, I know who you are and know what kind of kid you are. You just need to compete," Harbaugh told Hill in full rah-rah mode. "I know you can't play on the field and compete there, and that sucks. But you can compete in the classroom."

Hill was just getting started in BYU's finance program, and Harbaugh shared his own ordeal of breaking his arm while playing at Michigan and how that motivated him to get straight A's that semester.

"After that, I went and competed my butt off in the classroom and did really well," said Hill, who also secured an internship with a venture capital firm.

Of course, later this month, the two will get a chance to speak face-to-face when BYU visits Michigan on Sept. 26 in the Big House.

"I sent him a text not long ago to tell him congrats on the Michigan job, and even though it wasn't ideal, that I was super excited to finally be on the same field with him," Hill recounted.

Harbaugh, albeit respectfully, didn't sound as excited in his reply.

"I'm not looking forward to coaching against you, my friend," Harbaugh texted back.

But, then, that goes for any of the defensive coordinators tasked with slowing Hill's speed and power in the running game and what should be a more polished approach in the passing game. He front-squats 430 pounds, bench-presses well over 300 pounds and is one of the fastest players on the team.

"He can cut like a running back," BYU defensive end Bronson Kaufusi said. "He'll one-step cut you, so you're thinking about that, but you also don't want to get run over. There's that split-second where you have to decide. And then throwing the ball, he's making even quicker decisions and making every throw."

Already one of college football's most intriguing players, Hill might also be one of its most indispensable players. So that means, as foreign as it is to him, sliding or running out of bounds at the end of runs might be the best course of action at times.

But make no mistake, when the Cougars need a play to keep a drive alive, Hill is going to do what he's always done.

"At first, I say, 'I probably need to be smarter and all those things,' " said Hill, who rushed for 1,344 yards in his only full season as a sophomore. "But as my career has evolved, I've come to the conclusion that when you put me on that field, I'm going to do everything I can to win the football game. I know that's a fine line."

But it's a line the Cougars desperately need him to toe, even if it means we've seen the last of his spectacular hurdles into the end zone. He had 246 rushing attempts as a sophomore, a staggering number for a quarterback.

"I don't know where that line is, to be honest, other than I know the outcome," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "If he's healthy, we have a great chance against anybody. If he's not, our team suffers, and our chance for an amazing season is less likely. I've instructed him the very best way I know how. Is he always going to listen? He's a competitor and is going to try to help this team. He's not doing that in defiance of instruction. He's just trying to help this team."

The one thing that will change this season is that BYU plans to throw it more. Hill was completing 66.7 percent of his passes when he was injured a year ago. He gets a bad rap sometimes as a passer because he completed just 53.9 percent of his passes as a sophomore and threw 14 interceptions, but he was also learning a new system that year and was playing behind an offensive line that was still trying to find itself.

"The offense we're running right now is 10 times more efficient than what we were running as a sophomore," Hill said. "That's allowed me to be more efficient. With that being said, being a senior, I've had a 1,000 different looks out on this field. I've played a lot of live snaps. It's really easy for me now to see the safety rotation, and I know where my receivers are going to be."

In Tuesday's practice, Hill put on a clinic, whether it was throwing the deep ball, the fade route or crossing routes.

"We've never had a quarterback like this guy," said Robbie Boscoe, who quarterbacked BYU to a national title in 1984. "You can go way back or just recently. Nobody's had that kind of physique, strength and the ability to do what he does. The thing that separates him, and everybody talks about how he can run, is that he can throw the football, too. He's been spot-on in camp."

The BYU quarterback lineage is near and dear to Hill's heart.

He loves to tell the story of Steve Young sending him a congratulatory text after leading BYU to a win over Texas two seasons ago. The only problem was that Hill didn't know it was Young on the other end of the text.

"I get a text from this random number, and I typically don't respond to random numbers," Hill said. "A few weeks later, we come back to beat Houston, and Steve sends me another text from an unknown number, and on this one, he finally signs off, 'Steve.' I was like, 'I just blew off Steve Young.' "

If Hill can stay healthy, this is an offense - and a team - that could blow up this season and at least give the College Football Playoff selection committee something to think about, especially given the brutal September schedule.

"We're champing at the bit to show who we are and won't have to wait long to find out," Hill said.

He's waited long enough.