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Pocatello, Idaho

Neighbors remember Taysom Hill running around in diapers, trying to catch his brother. Dexter Hill, six years older, and his little brother later would diagram pass patterns with index fingers on their chests and throw footballs to each other in the street, always keeping score. By the time Taysom entered Pocatello's Highland High School, he knew there was a lot to live up to as a quarterback, following Dexter's exploits.

"I always wanted to be like him," Taysom Hill said Thursday, speaking during Dexter's funeral. "My love of football … is because of my brother."

Judd Thompson, a former Dixie State University teammate, described Dexter as "a shorter version of Taysom," with running and passing ability resembling the skills that have made Taysom a BYU star. Gino Mariani, who coached the brothers at Highland, said, "Dexter had what I would call the Hill edge, something that every Hill family member had: confidence that they were better than the competition."

The natural comparison diverges, in life and death. Dexter Hill, 31, was found dead March 25 at his parents' home, a house he helped them build on the other side of Pocatello from the neighborhood where Doug and Natalie Hill raised their four children. While a Bannock County Sheriff's Office investigation is not yet complete, it is apparent that addiction overwhelmed Dexter.

Doug Hill spoke during the funeral about Dexter's "battle that he could not win here" following "several years" of struggles, as court documents attest. Taysom Hill broke down as he praised his parents for doing all they could have done for his brother, who inspired his own competitive drive and always supported him. "So many times in my life," Taysom said, "Dexter was here to pick me up."

That's what he'll remember about his brother, as he concludes his own college football career with a fifth year of eligibility in 2016. Three of his previous four seasons have ended in injury, all prior to the first Saturday of October, in a BYU tenure that seems cursed. His brother's death will add another layer to the compelling story of Taysom's latest comeback. He agonized about staying at BYU and competing with Tanner Mangum for the starting job or transferring to another school, but said in early March that giving up football was not a consideration.

His love of the game, and the recognition that he can't play forever, motivated him to keep going. If anything, Dexter's legacy will drive him even more, remembering the lessons of precise footwork and tight spirals his brother emphasized.

Even being seven grades ahead of him in school, Dexter was the closest brother in age to Taysom as they grew up on Arabian Avenue near the Bannock County Fairgrounds, where several streets are named for horse breeds. Under the street light, they would run routes for each other and throw passes, keeping score — as Dexter always demanded, even when playing mini golf with his younger sister.

The brothers' competition "always ended with me sprinting into the house, bawling because I was so upset," Taysom said during the funeral. "He taught me how to compete and not take 'no' for an answer."

In a 2014 Tribune interview, he said, "I got into high school and everybody knew who Taysom Hill was. There was an expectation for me growing up to continue that legacy."

That's because of Jordan, a three-year starting defensive lineman for Arizona State; Dexter, who won a state championship as Highland's junior quarterback and almost rescued the next year's title game; and Celeste, a junior college basketball player. With his speed and linebacker's body, Taysom is a composite of his siblings. For 12 consecutive years, one or more of the Hills excelled in sports at Highland.

Unlike his younger brother, Dexter avoided injury in college football, but his route was circuitous. After graduating from Highland in 2002, he coached the Rams' freshman team for a year before enrolling at Scottsdale Community College, not far from Jordan at ASU. He thrived during his two seasons in Arizona, helping the Artichokes win a Western States Football League championship in '04 over Snow College and Dixie State, then a junior college.

"He could throw it as good as anybody, and I've been doing this a long time," said Mike Giovando, SCC's quarterbacks coach in those days and now a QB trainer. Having watched Taysom play, Giovando said, "Dexter had every bit as much talent, I can tell you that."

He moved to Northern Iowa, a powerful FCS program, having been recruited mostly as insurance. Dexter played extensively in three games when the younger starter was injured, but he returned to the sideline as the Panthers advanced to the 2005 national championship game and eventually left UNI. In 2008, he resurfaced at Dixie State, with the school in the early stages of a transition to a four-year, NCAA Division II program.

Dexter elevated the team immediately, with "confidence and an aura that we definitely needed," said Thompson, a DSU tight end. Dixie improved to 4-7, amid some close losses, in a season highlighted by Dexter's winning touchdown pass with one second remaining at Humboldt State. After the home team scored in the last two minutes, Dixie's players ordinarily would have thought "this game's over," Thompson said. "But we had Dexter."

His red helmet was displayed at the funeral as the last symbol of his athletic career. His life took twists and turns after his time in St. George. In a 2014 interview, Hill's parents described Taysom as a remarkably easy child to have raised. The unspoken comparison was to Dexter, who worked in construction as his problems were taking hold of him. Even in the same household environment, not every child is accepted to Stanford, serves a church mission, enrolls at BYU, gets married and succeeds as a finance major, as Taysom has done.

Dexter's Facebook page, last updated in June, features a photo of Taysom running for a 68-yard touchdown against Hawaii in his first start as a freshman in 2012. A photo of Dexter and Lindsay Cogdill is inset. Their daughter, Brielle, is 7 months old.

On her Facebook page, Cogdill posted, "I'm going to make sure she knew what a damn good man her Daddy was."

That mission will also become part of Taysom Hill's football story. As he spoke Thursday in a service attended by Kalani Sitake, Ty Detmer and other BYU athletic department staff members, a blue-and-white floral display with a large "Y" was propped in front of him, with the ribbon reading, "Love & Aloha BYU Football." Taysom mentioned looking at his brother's scriptural books following his death and being encouraged that Dexter had made recent notes. Another discovery in one of those books also made him smile: a play-call sheet, from his brother's football season at Northern Iowa.

Twitter: @tribkurt —

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