When Kenny Hill came to TCU, running back Kyle Hicks knew what to expect — the Southlake Carroll Kenny Hill, not the Texas A&M Kenny Hill.
“I don’t know what he was like at Texas A&M,” Hicks said. “I just know here, Kenny’s a chill dude. He’s laid-back, he’s cool. He’s a fun dude to be around.”
That’s the player Hicks knew from their days as high school competitors, and the player that TCU has known since he arrived on campus in June 2015 after losing his scholarship at A&M.
Hill enrolled at TCU after a semester of junior college, prepared to sit out a transfer season as nothing more than a scout team quarterback just months after being a starter in the SEC.
He began promptly shedding his A&M reputation, and Hicks, whose Arlington Martin team lost to Hill’s state championship Carroll team in the quarterfinals in 2011 and in the first round in 2012, saw the no-nonsense, competitive player he knew before.
“I remember when he was coming in, everybody was asking me, ‘How is Kenny? How is Kenny?’ ” Hicks said. “I said, ‘Kenny’s a dog. He’s been doing this since he was in high school.’ ”
But they did wonder.
“The biggest thing that surprises me is what kind of person, what kind of kid he is,” co-offensive coordinator Doug Meacham said. “Trust me, we’ve got guys on this team that are a whole lot more of a handful than he is. That surprised me. Because coming in with the reputation that he had, you thought, here’s a guy you’re going to have to keep your thumb on. That hasn’t been the case at all.”
On Saturday, Hill becomes a starter again in a Power 5 conference when he leads the Frogs in the season opener against South Dakota State.
But long before he was named the quarterback, he laid the groundwork for others to trust him in that position.
“You could tell he came in trying to prove himself through his work ethic to gain our trust and confidence,” receiver Deante Gray said. “He’s been very transparent with everybody, very open, talking with everybody and just becoming a Frog. So that really showed and paid off during spring and two-a-days.”
Defensive end Josh Carraway, a senior from Flower Mound, joked that the only reason Hill didn’t have too much of a reputation was because “he’s from Southlake.” But he, too, was impressed quickly.
“I wanted to get to meet him first, and once I did meet him, I realized this isn’t the guy that they were talking about at A&M, and he’s a really great guy,” Carraway said.
The first person to trust Hill had to be coach Gary Patterson, who didn’t want Hill coming directly from A&M to TCU and suggested the buffer semester at Tarrant County College.
“I told him he needed to get out of the limelight, just get back to being Kenny Hill, the kid I recruited out of high school,” Patterson said. “If he would have come right here, it would have always been somebody asking about him. It didn’t need to be about him. It needed to be about getting away from it, taking a deep breath.”
For Hill, it worked.
“It allowed me to reflect, find out more about myself and grow as a person and gave me a chance to go back to church, get right with the man upstairs again, which was something that I needed,” he told reporters on the eve of fall camp.
The benefits for Hill and his reputation are clear. There’s not much talk about Hill’s old nickname “Trill” at TCU.
“Kenny’s really walked the line,” Patterson said. “He’s been unbelievable, the way he goes to class, how he’s attacked the off-season, how he’s attacked trying to become the starting quarterback. I mean, he’s pretty serious about it. It’s not been a lot of BS going on. I’ve been really happy with the way he’s handled things.”
A reputation is born.
TCU vs. South Dakota State
7 p.m. Saturday, FSSW