Kenny Hill kept repeating himself.
“I’ve really just got to play better,” the TCU quarterback said Monday as he talked to reporters at Big 12 Media Days. “That’s the bottom line. For us to win, I’ve got to play better.”
It must be something he has heard a lot in the months following the Horned Frogs’ 6-7 season with him at the helm.
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“Those are my words. I have to play better,” he said. “Bottom line, everybody else — defense is solid, we know that; we’ve got all the skill guys we need. If I can play well, we’ll take off. I’ve got to get the ball to the playmakers and let them do their thing. If I’m doing that and distributing like I should, then I think we’ll have a good year.”
At the very least, Hill and the Frogs hope for a better year than his 2016, when the senior from Southlake’s 13 interceptions led the Big 12 and saddled a banged-up defense with more snaps than it could handle.
It wasn’t all Hill’s fault. Coach Gary Patterson has consistently acknowledged the 38 dropped passes — as tracked by the analytics site Pro Football Focus — that hampered Hill in his first full year as the starting quarterback in Fort Worth, not to mention an ankle injury that slowed him in the last two games of the regular season.
“We’ve got to give him help,” Patterson said. “We’ve got to catch the ball better. I think we’re going to be better upfront, offensive-line wise. We only lost one wide receiver. So I think all those things will benefit him, and then we’ve got to put him in an offense that bends toward his strengths.”
Hill led Big 12 quarterbacks in rushing last year with 609 yards, and his 10 touchdown runs were second-most on the team, behind Kyle Hicks.
Patterson said last year that Hill tends to play better the earlier he gets involved in a game with his legs. That may become an emphasis with new playcaller Sonny Cumbie.
“What we have to be able to do is do what we need to do to move the football,” Patterson said. “If that’s running it, then you run it. If it’s throwing it, being able to be more of a vertical game, then be more of a vertical game. But you have to have guys — what everybody understands is, guys have to step up. You can blame the quarterback, you can blame the coach, you can blame whatever. But at the end of the day, you have to make plays.”
Hill’s 269 completions last year were the second-most in a single season at TCU, and his 3,208 passing yards were third-most. He posted three of the top nine passing performances in TCU history in his first five games as a starter.
But the 6-7 finish overshadowed his accomplishments.
“If I had to give myself a grade, C-plus, because I thought there was stuff I did well, but then I just didn’t play well at times,” Hill said.
Hill, pulled out of two games last year as the Frogs’ offense lost steam down the stretch, acknowledged his critics.
“They’re right. If I play well, we'll ball,” he said. “This team has everything we need. If I play well, we'll take off.”
Army general Omar Bradley said: “The greatness of a leader is measured by the achievements of the led.”
It’s the story Hill was trying to tell Monday.
“If I get better, then everybody on our team gets better, because I’m the one getting the ball to them,” he said. “If I can get through my reads quicker, see the right guy, see the open guy better, then it makes everybody better. It really starts with me.”
He paused and smiled, unable to think of another way to put it.
“It really starts with me. That’s it, man.”