Kenny Hill arrived to talk about the season opener with reporters Tuesday at TCU, knowing what the moment signified.
“This is my last ‘first game’ in college,” he said.
“I’m ready to go. I’m ready to go.”
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The senior from Southlake Carroll enters his second and final season as the Horned Frogs’ starting quarterback, determined to play better than he did a year ago and, in the process, “change the narrative about me.”
The numbers framed the narrative in 2016 — Hill threw for the third-most passing yards in school history (despite being pulled twice and playing hurt off the bench in the season finale), led Big 12 quarterbacks in touchdown runs and posted three of the top nine passing performances in school history.
But he also led the league in interceptions and was next-to-last in passing efficiency, victimized by 38 drops. Despite that, his completion percentage of 61.1 percent tied Skyler Howard of West Virginia for fourth in the Big 12, trailing only the league’s best quarterbacks from a year ago, Pat Mahomes, Mason Rudolph and Baker Mayfield.
There was good and bad. Which is why TCU went 6-7.
And why Hill has been waiting since the end of the Liberty Bowl, one of his best, yet personally most disappointing, performances last season — “I can’t believe we just lost this game,” he said he remembers thinking walking off the field — for redemption.
For a change in the narrative.
“Man, you can just tell he’s ready to go,” cornerback Ranthony Texada said. “He’s a leader on this team. He’s ready to take that next step.”
TCU coach Gary Patterson sees a more confident, mature player in Hill compared with last season.
“I think some of the problems last year was he felt like he needed to be perfect,” Patterson said. “You just need to throw it so they can catch it. That’s what quarterbacks do. The best ones, no matter how hard they throw it, they have a soft ball. Throw it so they can catch it. We’ve worked a lot harder on moving, then throwing, than we did a year ago, which is [one] of his strengths.”
Patterson has blamed himself in part for Hill’s season a year ago, saying he was too hard on him early.
“I broke him down a little bit too much, maybe not understanding quite as well,” Patterson said. “He and I have a lot better understanding on what we’re trying to get accomplished. Tried to put a chip on his shoulder. People believed that he’s not a good quarterback. He’s kind of like Trevone Boykin, trying to prove them wrong. That’s what he gets from me, anyway.”
Saturday’s season opener against Jackson State will be Hill’s 26th college game and 21st start. He believes he is a different player and person than he was when his career began at Texas A&M.
“I think I’ve grown up,” he said. “Twenty-two years old. I’ve been through a lot, seen a lot, experienced a lot — just grown up. I’ve learned how to be more of a professional, learned what it takes to play this position in college, and I think that’s really just the biggest thing.”
Hill enters his third season working with quarterbacks coach Sonny Cumbie, now the play-caller for the Horned Frogs. Familiarity figures to be an advantage.
“We’re really not doing too much different, it’s all just being more comfortable in the offense, running these plays again,” Hill said. “I do lean on him a little more this year, just asking him questions, trying to learn more about the offense, more about blocking, all that stuff, just everything, so I can better know what’s going on.”
From footwork to film study to mental toughness, Hill aimed to improve it in the off-season. Patterson noticed the changes, particularly in how Hill bounced back from mistakes in practice.
“It’s a long game, so it’s all just bouncing back from adversity and not really getting too high with the highs, too lows with the lows,” Hill said.
In July at Big 12 Media Days, Hill said TCU’s season depended on how he played. He’s ready to test his theory.
“Feelings don’t change,” he said. “I”m excited. I get excited for every game — almost too excited for every game. I have to calm myself down. Every opportunity we get to play, it’s special. Not everyone gets to do this.”
Or to change the narrative.
TCU vs. Jackson State
7 p.m. Saturday, FSSW