The outcome remains the same, replay after replay. BYU quarterback Taysom Hill runs with the football, Utah State safety Brian Suite tackles him and Hill’s freshman season ends.
There’s much more background, including how Hill’s knee injury came via a coaching blunder that resulted in an unnecessary play. Yet 10 months later, the real story is how Hill overcame the injury’s effects and moved on with this career — just as Suite did, from an entirely different perspective.
And that’s why Hill deserves to have a healthy, productive year, running BYU’s new offense that will debut Aug. 31 at Virginia. Nobody could approach a season opener with greater anticipation, after the way 2012 ended for him. He went through all the stages of an injury, experiencing all the inevitable emotions.
“I’ve watched that play hundreds of times,” Hill said. He’ll always wonder what could or should have happened instead, such as him kneeling (as he was instructed to do on two subsequent plays to end the game), handing off or even being tackled before running for 4 yards and having Suite come flying in from the secondary to hit his knee.
Hill will always remember the empty feeling of standing on the sideline the next week against Oregon State and lying on the couch at home following surgery, watching his teammates play Notre Dame.
He’d started two games at LaVell Edwards Stadium, beating Hawaii 47-0 and edging USU 6-3 in a solid showing against a good defense. He went from those highs “to nothing,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I was part of the team.”
We’ll never know what would have happened if Hill had remained healthy, and how much his game would have advanced as he enters his sophomore season. Maybe the BYU coaches would have gone back to Riley Nelson against OSU, maybe not. Regardless, Hill’s convinced that amid everything he’s overcome, “I’ve become a better person and player because of it.”
Chad Lewis gets a big assist here. The former BYU tight end, now an athletic administrator, reminded Hill that all he could control at that point was how he responded. Hill started attending team meetings and lifting weights, working his way back into football.
Lewis once missed the Super Bowl as a result of his own unusual injury, breaking his foot while catching a touchdown pass to clinch the Philadelphia Eagles’ victory in the NFC championship game. Nobody touched him on that play. In Hill’s case, Suite’s hit caused the injury.
“It was just kind of a freak play,” Suite said after a recent USU practice. “I don’t ever play football to try to purposely injure someone. [Hill] got up and walked away and played the last few plays of the game, so I didn’t think anything of it. He’s a tough guy; he walked it off. … It’s not something that’s on my conscience, because I just play the game at one speed and things happen.”
Suite should not have any misgivings about his ninth tackle of that game, and injuries are such random occurrences that Hill could have been hurt on any of his other 18 carries. Yet this play resonated, because of the surprising diagnosis that followed and the fact that BYU was positioned to run out the clock.
Brandon Doman, then BYU’s offensive coordinator, said at the time, “I don’t think I’ll ever get over that, him getting injured the way he did and the circumstances of how it happened.”
The good part is that Hill got over it. Protected by his green jersey in practice, he has not absorbed a hit since early October. Only by facing Virginia can he check off that box of the recovery process. But in every other respect, physically and emotionally, Taysom Hill is ahead of the game.
Statistics of Taysom Hill’s two starts in 2012 as BYU’s quarterback:
Opp. Comp. Att. Yds. TD Int. Rush Yds. TD
Hawaii 12 21 112 2 1 15 143 1
Utah State 24 36 235 1 1 19 80 0