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Pocatello, Idaho • His parents describe BYU quarterback Taysom Hill as an easy child to have raised. His friends helped them.
Whenever his pals were about to engage in anything resembling mischief, one of them would announce, "We're not taking Taysom."
They recognized his promising future. "Anything that was even in the gray area," said longtime friend Spencer Harding, "we would steer him clear."
The protection of Hill continues in Provo, where BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae intends to call fewer designed runs for his quarterback this year, after two of Hill's three college seasons have ended with injuries in early October. Yet Hill is determined to play his game.
"As a senior, the conclusion I've come to is [that] this is how I play football," he said last week, during BYU's annual media day. "Just me being me, I'm still going to run the ball, right?"
That's among the traits that made him attractive to recruiters from Stanford and other schools and pushed him into Heisman Trophy consideration last season, before he broke his leg while running against Utah State. He went through the usual stages of anger and frustration in dealing with another injury, yet developed a remarkably upbeat attitude about the rehab process. The perspective of marriage and education as a finance major have made him "more dimensional," said his father, Doug.
Such a description has always applied to his football ability. When his son ran 68 yards for a touchdown against Hawaii in his first start as a BYU freshman, Doug Hill told his wife, Natalie, "This looks like a Highland game."
Lots of yards, lots of points. In Highland's 42-28 defeat of Lake City in the 2008 Idaho state quarterfinals, Hill's 417 yards of running and passing represented all but 26 of his team's yards. That performance prompted the hometown Idaho State Journal's first "Hill runs wild" headline, reprised last September after BYU's win over Houston.
Hill produced 576 passing yards and 567 rushing yards in three games during the Rams' championship run, accounting for 15 touchdowns. That was standard stuff in his two seasons as Highland's QB, after he played receiver as a sophomore. Rams coach Gino Mariani once surprised his staff by declaring, "He's going to be the best kid that ever walked through this school."
On the first play of his senior year, vs. Judge Memorial of Salt Lake City, Hill scrambled to his left and ran 78 yards for a touchdown. "And then it happened all season like that," Mariani said. After games, opposing coaches often would tell Mariani, "That was a treat."
So imagine being Jim Harbaugh, then Stanford's coach, or David Shaw, the Cardinals' offensive coordinator, knowing Hill was about to join them. Shaw recently talked about all the effort that goes into evaluating high school players, citing how Hill's case was different. "Watching Taysom was just fun," said Shaw, now Stanford's head coach. "He played with energy and excitement. You watched him play basketball, and he played with the same energy and fire."
That stemmed from growing up as the youngest of four children in a household of future college athletes. For 12 consecutive years, one or more Hill kids would excel at Highland. Taysom grew up watching his sister and two brothers "always playing catch-up," by his account. He would beg his brother Dexter, who's six years older, to play on-one-one with him and then go to his room in frustration, not talking to anyone. But he gained confidence from competing against Dexter, also a Highland quarterback, and playing on traveling basketball teams with players who were a year or two older.
Hill's competitive nature made him "the kind of guy you hated practicing against," said Harding, his youth basketball teammate. Yet the kid was so thoughtful that he would clean up after meals at his friend's house.
"I mean, I never did the dishes," Harding said, "and I lived there."
The convergence of his family's success and Highland's football tradition created some pressure, as he advanced through Gate City Elementary and Franklin Middle School. "I got into high school and everybody knew who Taysom Hill was," he said. "There was an expectation for me growing up to continue that legacy."
He thrived as almost a composite character of his siblings and parents notably, with his mother's sprinting ability. Chris Frost, Highland's basketball coach and a football assistant, discovered a multi-sport theme. "When things got tight," he said, "you knew who was going to try to take over the game."
Hill loved golf, but he competed in track and field in the spring instead, wanting to increase his speed. Highland's 2009 yearbook depicts him only in athletics, other than his senior photo. Preparing for Stanford, he immersed himself in demanding classes, including honors anatomy, AP English and AP calculus.
He never made it to Stanford. Hill left for an LDS Church mission to Australia, believing he could come back and start at Stanford in January 2012, only to learn that the school does not allow mid-year enrollment. On his way home, changing planes in Los Angeles, he heard that quarterback Jake Heaps was transferring from BYU. That development cemented Hill's move to Provo, after the Cougars were late in pursuing him in high school.
"I hope they thank their lucky stars every day that they got that guy," said Brandon Doman, BYU's former offensive coordinator.
Doman lost his job after Hill's freshman season, which included the episode when a sideline mixup caused Hill to run the ball unnecessarily with the clock running down against Utah State. An injury to his left knee, caused by USU safety Brian Suite's tackle, ended his season. Almost exactly two years later, Suite dragged down a scrambling Hill, whose left leg was broken.
In the LaVell Edwards Stadium stands, Hill's parents were crushed. "Our hearts just hit our shoes," Doug Hill said. "It wasn't just us. You could feel the air go out of the stadium."
The injury came two days after Mariani concluded an interview in Pocatello by saying how he wished BYU would emphasize Hill's pocket passing skills. That's likely to happen in 2015.
Partly based on Christian Stewart's fill-in work last season, Anae believes BYU is "totally capable" of averaging 300 passing yards. Hill was completing 66.7 percent of his passes before his injury, a big improvement from the previous season, and quarterbacks coach Jason Beck expects that level of accuracy to continue.
Nine months later, Hill has recovered, physically and emotionally. Being married to the former Emily Nixon (a sister of ex-BYU linebacker David Nixon) and completing the junior core of BYU's finance program have added to his maturity, aiding his comeback.
"There's stages, right? Stages where it hits you harder than others. … You can choose to be bitter or you can choose to say, 'Hey, this sucks, but let's make the most of it,' " Hill said.
Through it all, while missing 15 of BYU's past 33 games, Hill has discovered that "my biggest asset is my brain." Not his legs, or his right arm, although he hopes they'll take him into the NFL. A career in the finance industry awaits him, but only after he has pursued all that football can offer.
"I've got another year to showcase what I can do as an athlete and as a quarterback and as a BYU football team," he said, "so let's make the most of it."
About Taysom Hill
Born • Aug. 23, 1990, in Pocatello, Idaho. If BYU plays in the 2015 Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve, Hill will become the oldest quarterback in BYU history at 25 years, 4 months and 1 day. John Beck was 25 years, 4 months old in the 2006 Las Vegas Bowl.
Wife • Emily, sister of former BYU linebacker David Nixon. Three of Emily's sisters married BYU football players: Larry Harmer (DL, 1993-95), Neal Daley (LB, 1993-95) and Craig Bills (DB, 2009-14).
Siblings' college athletic careers • Jordan, Arizona State defensive lineman; Dexter, Northern Iowa/Dixie State University quarterback; Celeste, Western Wyoming JC basketball player.
High school • Highland, Pocatello. The school's most famous alumnus is former NFL running back Merrill Hoge, whose son, Beau, is an incoming BYU quarterback from Kentucky. Hoge's nephew, Tristen, is an offensive lineman who led Highland to the 2014 state championship and signed with Notre Dame.
Numbers • Hill wore No. 3 in football and basketball at Highland. Senior quarterback James Lark held that number at BYU in 2012, so Hill switched to No. 4.
2008 season • Highland went unbeaten in Idaho, but lost 38-33 to Logan, quarterbacked by Jeff Manning, and 34-21 to Grant Union of California, led by running back Devontae Butler's 133 yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries. He's now known as Devontae Booker, Utah's All-Pac-12 player. Highland beat Eagle 28-7 for the state championship.
Recruitment • Hill initially signed with Stanford, but never enrolled at the school. BYU will visit former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh's Michigan team on Sept. 26.