Tyreek Hill’s last football coach had difficulty pinpointing weaknesses in the speedy and versatile transfer who figures to play multiple positions for Oklahoma State this season.
But the head man at Garden City Community College did remember one thing.
“It’s kind of funny,” Matt Miller said in a phone interview Friday. “Tyreek loved those candy bars.”
Miller got a good chuckle reminiscing about Hill’s first year on campus, adjusting to a diet more in line with his future goal of leaving the JUCO ranks for a Division-I contender. Nutrition played a factor in Hill suffering from cramps early on at Garden City, Miller said, but once the coaching staff monitored his meals, “that cured all his problems.”
“(OSU) has got to make sure he’s taking a multivitamin a day and lots of pickle juice,” Miller said. “He’s got so much muscle on him and not much water weight. You’ve got to keep him hydrated all the time so he doesn’t cramp.”
Hill’s athletic credentials entering this football season have been well documented since he picked the Cowboys back in September: More than a dozen scholarship offers from top schools across the country. An acclaimed track career, including a number of meet records set in the spring. Preseason Big 12 Newcomer of the Year honors.
But as the conversation shifts to how offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich plans to use Hill this season, no one has quite the perspective Miller does. Because in 2012, it was his job to adjust Garden City’s playbook for the incoming freshman with lightning speed.
“We went into the season with a game plan, an idea of how we’d utilize Tyreek,” Miller said. “To his credit, within three or four games, we realized our imagination was the only limit on how we could use him.”
Following a Friday morning practice in Stillwater, running backs coach Jemal Singleton said Hill’s varied skill set will likely aid in the Cowboys’ abilities to keep defenses on their heels.
“You’ve got a guy that can do multiple things,” Singleton said. “He can line up as a receiver. He can line up in the backfield, and really causes some problems for some defensive coordinators to determine exactly what personnel package we’re in. Are we in two-back; are we in one-back?”
Miller gave some insight into how Hill was used at Garden City, providing a baseline for his potential use in the Cowboys’ system.
NUMBER OF TOUCHES
Gundy has said he’d like Hill to get 15-to-20 touches per game, maybe more.
Miller couldn’t recall the exact amount of carries, catches and returns Hill averaged at Garden City, but did say there was a “good chunk” of sets in the playbook specifically designed for Hill. And most of the time, it was very simple.
“I had plays called Tyreek Right and Tyreek Left,” Miller said. “Just where we go into wildcat and let Tyreek run.”
Miller thought about Hill’s role on offense the past two seasons and one thing stuck out in his mind.
“Why didn’t I just have Tyreek run deep every play and just have the quarterback throw as far as he could to see what happens?” Miller asked. “He was so athletic. We probably would have been better off if we did that.”
OSU coaches and players said Hill has been getting the majority of his practice snaps with the running backs.
He tallied 659 yards on 101 carries with five touchdowns last season. And like in the Cowboys’ offense, many of those snaps came out of shotgun sets.
“He had numerous carries as running back out of the shotgun, so he’s used to it,” Miller said. “He’s coming there with a wide range of skills because we had him everywhere.”
The majority of the big runs on Hill’s highlight tape don’t showcase his ability to break tackles. His breakaway speed propels him nearly untouched on a number of long scoring runs.
And defenders will undoubtedly be stronger, smarter and quicker in the Big 12, but Miller said he’s convinced there’s no issue with Hill running right up the middle.
“Tyreek Hill is as physical a runner as you’d want,” Miller said. “He’s going to get you tough yards. He can run over people. When you’re coming with that acceleration into a defender, if he could get low on that guy, he comes in like a bullet.”
Hill hauled in 32 catches for 532 yards and six touchdowns his sophomore season at Garden City.
“Tyreek’s hands are fine,” Miller said.
Hill will likely catch balls as a slot receiver or from routes out of the backfield in 2014. But one of the most glaring differences in watching his Garden City highlight tape is the lack of pressure-cornerback coverage compared to what he’ll see in the Big 12.
“He’s really got to focus on the fundamentals, bending his knees, changing his hips, ripping his elbows — everything you’ve got to do to help accelerate and decelerate,” Miller said. “But he’s good at that and he’ll only get better.”
PUNT/ KICK RETURN
Gundy said during OSU’s Media Day that he would “love to use (Hill) in our return game. He’s getting quality reps back there now. So we’ll just watch and see how it goes.”
It went well for Miller. He said Hill’s “coming-out party” as a dynamic playmaker took place the third game of his freshman year. It’s one performance, and one return, he won’t soon forget.
“Tyreek took a screen pass 95 yards for a touchdown and it was the fastest 95 yards I’ve ever seen on film or in person,” Miller said. “It was amazing. Then he returned a kickoff for a touchdown.”
Hill will be asked to protect the Cowboys’ quarterback from oncoming rushers this season, and Miller admits that’s not something he practiced much at Garden City.
“To tell you the truth, when I was going to pass I would prefer to have Tyreek Hill as a threat, an option to score a touchdown with, than to protect my quarterback,” Miller said. “There were other guys that could do that.”
When Hill first came to Stillwater, Gundy said there were times when he looked like a track runner playing football. But he changed his tune last Saturday after the Cowboys scrimmaged, saying Hill “showed some signs today of a football player playing football.”
Miller said he expected that progression. As a former assistant at Kansas State, he knows the caliber of talent and resources available in the Big 12.
“Whatever skill set he arrived with, I’m sure it’s much better now,” Miller said. “It’s every coach’s goal to improve a little bit every day. With the coaching staff I know they have at Oklahoma State, I’m anxious and excited to see what they’re going to do with him. They’re very innovative offensive minds and forward thinkers. I really think they’re going to have some fun things to do with him.”