For three years, Kenny Hill has spent his spring breaks and summers in San Diego.
Not a bad idea for anybody.
But these days, it’s an especially attractive idea for quarterbacks who want to work with George Whitfield Jr., a former player whose training academy has become a destination for college passers trying to improve for the next season or the NFL draft.
“I definitely think he’s going to have every chance to play on Sundays,” Whitfield said of Hill, who had the third-best passing season in TCU history last year but also led the Big 12 with 13 interceptions. “It’s all in front of him. But Sundays aren’t a reality until Saturdays have been executed at the highest level you possibly can.”
That’s why Hill spent spring break at Whitfield’s camp, aiming to polish areas like his footwork and weight transition.
“There’s some things he had to improve on. He’ll tell you that, he told me that,” Whitfield said. “He just believes that if TCU is going to make that true playoff run — and that’s a program that should, inside their building, have the College Football Playoff everywhere — quarterback play is going to be a big determinant of that. He knows that, and that’s his goal.”
Since 2004, Whitfield has trained some big names at his camp, including Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston, Johnny Manziel, Braxton Miller and Tahj Boyd. On his website, Whitfield calls the quarterback position the most difficult in sports and “the most undercoached.”
Three weeks ago, Whitfield posted a photo on Twitter of Hill working at the camp.
TCU coach Gary Patterson said he did not know how Hill’s performance next season would be affected by his work with Whitfield.
Whitfield said he shares all of his work with his clients’ school coaches.
“Everything that happens out here, you want the staff up to speed,” he said. “You want them to have a full understanding, only because we’re an extension of them. The things he’s going to work on out here have to support what they’re trying to do back there.”
Whitfield said Hill focused on footwork and weight transition to improve his accuracy.
“None of these guys comes out here without some type of goal. His was consistency,” Whitfield said. “He can make any type of throw. He’s certainly not limited in any capacity. But can you do it on call? Can you do it when it’s a known passing situation on the road? Can you do it under siege?”
Whitfield said Hill sometimes skipped a step or two in his throwing motion to avoid trouble, which resulted in decreased accuracy.
“There’s times he’ll make throws on his back foot or flat-footed, not because he’s trying to, but just because in the moment, he turns and deals the football in a manner that he thinks is expedient,” Whitfield said. “If you can get yourself to take the extra half-second to step and drive through the throw, you’ll get more on it.”
Speaking to reporters two weeks ago, Patterson acknowledged where Hill fell short last season but also noted how often he was victimized by dropped passes, more than any other quarterback in the nation last year by one count.
“The quarterback gets blamed for a lot of things, and to be honest with you, it’s not always the quarterback’s fault,” he said. “I think he lost a little bit of confidence at the end of the year.”
From Patterson’s perspective, it’s important for Hill to regain the “swagger” he showed in the first four games at TCU, when he posted three of the top nine passing games in TCU history — 452 yards against SMU, 449 against Oklahoma and 439 against South Dakota State.
But he slumped in midseason, and TCU with him. The Frogs barely won at Kansas in a three-interception game for Hill, he was intercepted on TCU’s first possession in a loss at West Virginia, and he was benched after a third-quarter interception in a loss against Texas Tech. By season’s end, he was also playing on a bad ankle.
“I think a little bit may be I was too tough on him, to be honest with you,” Patterson said. “It’s a fine line about being a quarterback that does this offense. You’ve got to look like it doesn’t matter to you that you threw a pick, but it does. You can’t let the rest of the offense know that it gets to you. Trevone Boykin was great about it. He had ice. It didn’t matter if I got onto him or not, he was going back out, throwing the next drill. Whoever the quarterback is, in this offense, for us to be what we want to be, he has got to be able to do that.”
Healthy in time for the Liberty Bowl, Hill operated effectively against Georgia with a touchdown run and two scoring passes. But five sacks eventually caught up to him. He lost a fumble in the second quarter on a sack, and another sack in the fourth quarter cost his team field position, leaving a longer attempt on a go-ahead field goal, which missed.
“Coming down to the end, I got to make more plays,” Hill said after the game. “I play quarterback. I need to make plays.”
Hill led Big 12 quarterbacks in rushing, and his 10 touchdowns were second on the team. Patterson said he has seen benefits when Hill gets involved early in a game with his legs.
“The faster he gets in the flow of a game, the better a player he is,” Patterson said. “Point is, what do we have to do to get that done? Some quarterbacks, it’s throwing the quick throws. Some quarterbacks, it’s running the football. We’ve got to find out with Kenny which one that is.”
Whitfield said he doesn’t touch Hill’s running game, calling it “innate.”
“Some of these guys like Kenny and Manziel and Newton, they have a gift for timing and instincts,” Whitfield said. “They just understand, ‘Oop, time to get out of here. Oop, there’s 20 yards in the middle of the field.’ They can attack, and those kinds of guys, that’s constant stress on a defense.”
Whitfield said Hill will improve his chances to make plays on the ground and in the air with consistent technique, which was the No. 1 goal.
“Then that confidence will resonate,” Whitfield said. “Then you can probably see it. I just think for him, being an older player and looking around and recognizing how talented a locker room he has and how talented a program it is, I’m sure he is starting to get a sense of his impact, the potential impact he can have, on this championship-caliber program.”
Whitfield said he sees 40 to 50 college quarterbacks a year, each for a week at a time. He also works with pros.
But there was a certain celebrity to the TCU quarterback. Whitfield said Hill is well-known for his splashy Texas A&M debut in 2014 and his days leading one of the most recognized high school programs in the nation, Southlake Carroll.
“I’ve never been on a field with Kenny where the quarterbacks didn’t know who he was,” Whitfield said. “He has — and some kids have this — a universal respect. Most of them know what he did in high school. I think he facilitates that respect when guys see how reserved and self-assured, classy and soft-spoken he is. He doesn’t have to be the loudest in the room. He’s had some showtime plays. But when you actually meet him, he couldn’t be more down-to-earth. College quarterbacks know and respect him. They can’t wait for him to take the next step.”
The next step
Hill has a clear idea of the next step — getting himself and TCU to the best season possible.
He has told Whitfield he is set up for success.
“Fort Worth is the perfect place for him,” Whitfield said. “That’s what he told me. His parents were out here. And they all wore purple, putting up the Horned Frogs sign. They just have such an immense pride for being there at TCU.”
Hill has made that clear, also, since meeting Patterson’s standards in transferring from A&M. He wants to be a winner at TCU.
“He said, ‘I can’t throw for 400 yards in the first three quarters and then have two interceptions in the fourth quarter,’ ” Whitfield said. “He says it: ‘This program is a playoff program. We should be in there, making runs at national championships, this program is wired to do that.’ That’s essentially what he says. ‘And it comes down to me. What does 7 do to contribute for us to be there?’ ”
Maybe San Diego held an answer.
TCU spring game
11 a.m. Saturday
Amon G. Carter Stadium