- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Tyreek Hill will be the fastest football player in the Big 12 this fall, and it’s probably not even close.
Never heard of him? That’s understandable if you’re not a recruitnik. But the track world has known his name for a while, and was reminded once again this weekend.
The Oklahoma State two-sport athlete finished fifth at the NCAA Division I Indoor Track and Field Championships in the 200-meter dash on Friday. It’s an event Hill ran no more than four times this spring.
He broke his own school record with a time of 20.68 seconds in the prelims, then broke it again by hitting 20.57 in the final. Hill, the Big 12 Indoor Freshman of the Year, also became the first OSU spring in school history to earn indoor All-America honors. And he was a gold and bronze medalist at the 2012 World Junior Championships in Barcelona.
To say Mike Gundy and his staff are salivating to get Hill on a football field could be the understatement of the spring in Stillwater.
“Football is his first love, if you ask him,” OSU sprints coach Diego Flaquer said. “That’s his baby. I asked him that the other day, actually. I said, ‘Which one do you love?’ He said, ‘I love me some football, coach.’ But he’s very passionate about track as well.”
The 5-foot-9, 185-pound transfer was ESPN’s No. 1 rated athlete out of Garden City (Kan.) Community College and has a chance to become this conference’s next Tavon Austin, a receiver/running back/returner capable of burning a defense in a variety of ways. But track came first when Hill joined the program in January.
Landing Hill was a major coup for both the Cowboys football and track programs, and they worked together to make this happen. Hill took visits to the likes of Florida State, Alabama and Texas and was recruited by the best of the best in both sports.
“He felt that Oklahoma State was a place where he was comfortable, and his mom is in Norman so she’s very close to him,” Flaquer said. “All those little things played a huge role. For us to be able to get him to come here and for him to feel at home here was huge.”
Most track athletes dedicate their fall semester to preparing for the winter indoor season. Hill, who put up 1,191 total yards and 11 touchdowns in his sophomore year at Garden City, didn’t have that luxury as a midyear enrollee.
That’s what made his performances at the Big 12 and NCAA championships all the more remarkable: Hill did it all on about a month of training.
He didn’t run his first college meet until Feb. 14, at a Tyson Invitational in Arkansas that’s annually one of the nation’s best. He finished fourth in the 60-meter finals.
One week later, and immediately after some football workouts, Flaquer drove Hill up to the K-State Open. His time of 6.68 seconds in the 60-meter broke the meet record long held by former KSU great Terence Newman.
Two weeks ago, at the Big 12 Indoor Championships, Hill took home gold in the 200-meter dash and finished second in the 60 meters.
“These other guys have been doing this for 28 or 30 weeks,” Flaquer said. “For him to come in and make the impact he made so quickly in the Big 12 and nationally, that’s something I think we can build on. His future is extremely bright.”
Fifth in the nation wasn’t good enough for Hill, and Flaquer admits Hill didn’t execute his sprint as planned. He’s just scratching the surface of what he can do, and still learning what it takes at the college level.
Hill finally gets a chance to recover this week while Oklahoma State is on spring break. Next week, he puts on the pads and gets back to work with the Cowboys football team.
And so, obviously, the question must be asked: Just how fast could Hill be on a football field?
“I think he’s a low 4.2 or 4.3 guy,” Flaquer said of Hill’s 40 time. “If he catches the start right, he’s a 4.2 guy.”
Gundy and his staff have been supportive throughout this process and OK’d his plan to miss spring ball for the national meet. They don’t mind sharing, but the playbook and the practice field will be Hill’s focus from now until mid-April.
“He has been very successful when he has the ball in his hands,” Gundy said after signing day. “I don’t think it’s any secret for all of us, certainly from a coaching standpoint, if you have a player that can make plays then he has to touch the football.”
The logical use of his speed and acceleration will be as a receiver who also takes sweeps and handoffs out of backfield.
Hill wants to do both sports on a professional level someday. That’s the dream. But first, he’ll have to live up to the hype with a helmet on.
“If they find a way to get this kid the ball,” Flaquer said, “and find someone to even halfway block for him, it’s going to be scary.”