By Brandon HENSLEY
On the second drive of the first game of the season, the brand new Crescenta Valley High quarterback dropped back in the pocket and turned to his left. This was not only his first pass attempt of the game, but a new beginning as leader of the team. This is what he had been groomed for all offseason. This was going to be the start of something big. He squared his body and fired a pass maybe five yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
It was intercepted.
And so it goes for some people. Not everyone is fortunate enough to experience a great first day on the job, right? Fortunately for Tyler Hill, newly minted starting quarterback for the reigning CIF Southeast Division champion Falcons, there are nine more games to get this thing right.
“It was the first game at a new position, so it was different,” he said afterward. “But I’m learning each week and getting better.”
Hill completed six passes last week against Verdugo, including two interceptions in CV’s 37-17 victory. If he can improve on the whole “Don’t throw it to players wearing different colors” concept, there might not be much opposing teams can do to stop him.
If this were “Create a Player” mode in a video game, Hill would have every other attribute up near 99. Arm strength. Intelligence. Tackling. Running. It all seems to be there for Hill, who was an All-CIF defender as safety last season.
“He’s such a good athlete, we knew we had to put him at QB. Because he’s the guy that touches the ball every play,” said offensive coordinator Hudson Gossard, who has modified the playbook to a more run-oriented attack opposed to last year’s pass-first offense.
Hill is still playing safety, where as a sophomore he led the team in tackles last year with 141. Speaking with him in late August after a quick bench press session, there was nothing but cool confidence coming from his eyes and mouth about what he’s capable of achieving.
“I just love the game of football. I have a passion for it, and I always will,” he said.
Nizar Abou-Chakra knows. The senior lineman called Hill one of the toughest and smartest kids he’s ever played with.
“He goes so hard. At the safety position, he almost plays it like a linebacker. He makes every single play on the run. Teams are scared to play him,” Abou-Chakra said.
Standing at 6’1”, Hill is up to 200 pounds, 20 more than last season. A steady diet of protein (“I’m a growing boy; I could eat anything,”) plus regimen of heavy lifting and cardio has helped him get in the best shape of his young life.
In the summer, Hill was injured at a camp when a player much larger than him rolled up on his ankle, damaging the ligaments. This allowed backup Evan Nelson to lead the Falcons to a successful showing at passing tournaments, but Hill stayed hungry. He still threw, and studied the playbook. In therapy, he swam laps in a pool and did jumps out of the shallow end. He spent three weeks on crutches, but then he healed.
Now, the player defensive coordinator Dennis Gossard calls “Wolverine” is ready to unleash hell on the rest of the Pacific League.
As a freshman, he came to the varsity competing for a role. His first experience in the weight room was intimidating. Some guys took to him and recognized his ability, while some upperclassmen didn’t want a freshman taking their spot.
As Hill settled in and performed well for a team that went 8-2 and barely missed the playoffs, any anxiety melted away. His sophomore year only solidified his reputation as a leader.
“Now that he’s an upperclassman, he’s able to fulfill that leadership role, but even in the past he was doing that,” Abou-Chakra said.
Except, as a quarterback, Hill knows the mindset has to change. On defense, players can let loose a little more. Hill can be Wolverine. But in managing an offense that lost some of its star power in Connor Van Ginkel, Chase Walker and Jonathan Jun, Hill has to adjust mentally. He must be well-mannered, as he puts it, calm in times of stress.
“You have to be that guy who is easy going, let everything roll off your back,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing [Hudson’s] been teaching me.”
“Ty is going to continue to get better every game. He doesn’t have any experience. He’s learning on the job,” Hudson said.
If there’s ever a moment of doubt, he knows he can tuck the ball and take off. His ability with his legs will force defenders to never turn their back on him. In the fourth quarter last week, Hill ran to his left outside the tackles and took off for 36 yards, which set up a 20-yard touchdown run by Brandon Beardt.
If not for some snaps that went over his head, which counts against rushing yards, Hill would have finished the night close to 100 yards on the ground.
In the classroom, Hill is excited for American History this semester. What he loves is seeing how generations either learn from past mistakes, or repeat the failures. Now it’s Hill’s turn to take that knowledge and apply it on the field. The Falcons are primed to repeat as league champions, and possibly in line for another historic run in CIF. But much of that will depend on how far Hill can take them, how much he can improve from Week 1 to the last game of the season.
“I don’t feel any pressure at all. I’m more excited than nervous. I can’t wait,” he said.