Provo • No fewer than eight reporters gathered around backup quarterback Taysom Hill after BYU’s football practice Monday night, or about one reporter for every yard the freshman picked up on his only carry in Saturday night’s rivalry game loss to Utah.
Hill is getting Riley Nelson-like media treatment this week, partly because he’s serving as a travel guide, of sorts, as the only Idahoan on the Cougars’ roster.
BYU travels to Boise State on Thursday night to take on the No. 24 Broncos in a game that will be televised nationally by ESPN.
“Boise State [football] is really popular up there,” said Hill, who’s from Pocatello. “A lot of Idaho people love and support Boise State, which I did as well, growing up.”
But Hill’s knowledge and familiarity with what the Cougars will face Thursday on Boise State’s famous blue turf isn’t the primary reason he’s in the spotlight a bit more than usual this week. With BYU (2-1) having suffered its first loss of the season, the natural tendency is to wonder if Hill’s playing time will increase, knowing that Nelson and listed second-stringer James Lark are both seniors.
Hill got in the game for one play against the Utes, that 8-yard run. Lark did not play. Nelson ran the ball well, but struggled with his passing accuracy and completed just 17 of 35 passes for 206 yards. He was intercepted once and at times had a pained expression on his face, as if he was hurting.
Nelson said a couple times Monday that the issues with his back that kept him from playing in the second half against Weber State are not troublesome. But with little time to work through the usual assortment of bumps and bruises that all games bring, expect the Cougars to spell him more often Thursday.
Hill says he’ll be ready if called upon.
“It is one of those things that you never know [what is going to happen],” Hill said. “We practice, and do those things here. But until we get there and see what [the opponent] is doing, we just don’t know. So I am doing the best I can to stay ready, and being warm for whenever my number is called.”
The quarterback who initially signed with Stanford said he considered Boise State when he was coming out of Pocatello’s Highland High. He received a scholarship offer from BSU coach Chris Petersen, but went in a different direction.
“I liked them. They are obviously a great program, and have had a lot of success,” Hill said. “But ultimately out of high school, I chose Stanford, and felt that was where I needed to be, and then I ended up here at BYU, and haven’t looked back, and have loved the experience.”
Petersen said Monday the Broncos “didn’t have a chance” to get Hill.
“Just a really good player, quarterback, good athlete,” Petersen said. “Just a guy a lot of guys wanted to have.”
Now, the 6-foot-2, 218-pound Hill has been called one of the best athletes on BYU’s team. Through three games, he’s been on the field, usually in the “wildcat” role, long enough to complete 2 of 4 passes for 36 yards and a touchdown and to run nine times for 41 net yards and two TDs.
Nelson says Hill is a “freak athlete” and one of the hardest workers on the team in the weight room. He predicts great things in the future for the Cougars’ probable starting quarterback next year.
As for Hill, he just wants to get through his first trip back to his home state.
“Yeah, I am really excited. It has been fun already,” he said. “I have had various friends and family call me up, wanting tickets to go watch the game. ... It will be fun to be back up there.”
BYU quarterback stats
Quarterback GP Rating Comp-Att-Int Yds TDs
Riley Nelson 3 134.24 60-100-2 735 5
Taysom Hill 3 208.10 2-4-0 36 1
James Lark 2 140.80 7-10-0 45 1
BYU at No. 24 Boise State
P Thursday, 7 p.m.
TV • ESPN