September 9, 2018 1:50:29 AM
Brett Hudson - [email protected]
MANHATTAN, Kansas -- When Saturday ends, it's likely Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill will be among the top five rushers in the Southeastern Conference through two games. His 10 yards per carry over that same span could rank in the same heights among those with at least 20 carries, if not higher.
Yet, the only deceiving number about Hill is his weight.
The Columbus native played his freshman season listed at 212 pounds and has started his sophomore season at 215. The slight difference hides the transformation that has made Hill into a back that can be one of the SEC's best -- a potential he proved on Saturday.
In running for 211 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries -- 12.4 yards per carry -- Hill took himself from one in the crowd to the unquestioned leader of the pack as No. 18 MSU (2-0) beat Kansas State 31-10. He did it in a way that was the exact manifestation of what he had in mind as he made life changes over the summer to transform his body.
This all started with a conversation with his new running backs coach and run game coordinator, Charles Huff. Hill asked Huff what he needs to do to fit the Joe Moorhead offense, and Huff made it simple: Hill had to be explosive and he had to be quick. That meant changing his body and changing it in a very specific way: he had to put on muscle, but he had to do so a very specific way. He had to be both stronger and faster.
Hill took that burden on himself. He took the program from strength and conditioning coach Anthony Piroli and did everything he could outside of it optimize his summer: he was careful about when he ate and what he ate, particularly late at night.
"I had to cut down going to sleep late like I used to, I don't do that anymore," Hill said. "This year, I don't go out much. I don't do nothing, just sit in the house. If I'm not watching TV, I'm in my playbook."
It all showed on Saturday. Hill showed the added explosion, taking his first carry for 47 yards, another one for 52 and scoring from 28 yards out in the second quarter. He also showed the added strength, battering the Wildcats (1-1) to the point that he would have averaged six yards per carry even if his three longest carries were removed. His 211 yards were the most by any Bulldog since Nick Fitzgerald ran for 258 in the 2016 Egg Bowl and most by a MSU running back since Anthony Dixon ran for 252 on Kentucky in 2009.
On Hill's long runs, he would hit the hole with enough speed to beat a defender crashing to it. On his shorter runs, it was common to see him lower the shoulder on an incoming safety before ultimately going to the turf.
"Certainly Kylin runs with a tremendous physicality, runs behind his pads and has the second gear to take it the distance," Moorhead said.
The new version of Hill has everyone impressed. Fitzgerald described Hill's game as strong, quick, fast and agile, all before adding he can, "make people miss and run through tackles."
"You knew he was going to go off like this eventually," Fitzgerald said.
All it took was the opportunity.
Hill spent his freshman season as a rotational back behind Aeris Williams, ending it with 78 carries, six per game. A new coaching staff and new system granted an opportunity to reset that status quo; a rotation was still expected, but maybe one that did not favor one back over the other as last year's did Williams over Hill.
On Saturday, Hill ran it 17 times, Nick Gibson ran it three times and Williams did not get a carry. This is when Hill is most comfortable.
Hill said it felt like he was in high school again, when he was running for 200 yards or more with ease and leading Columbus High School to the playoffs. In those days, he was the unquestioned alpha for a group of teammates that looked at him knowing their best chance to win rested on his shoulders; at times in Bill Snyder Family Stadium, he got the same treatment.
"Every time we got on the field, Fitz kept telling me, 'Let's roll 8 (Hill's jersey number),'" Hill said. "The offensive line is going to do their job, the receivers are going to catch and we're going to punch it in."
What a performance like that means for Hill's future workload is left to be seen. Moorhead is quick to point out his past features more feature ball carriers than not, but he's just as quick to point out offenses in his past that had two running backs run for 1,000 yards in the same season. Williams is still a proven 1,000-yard rusher waiting in the wings if MSU chooses to turn to him. For now, Hill is living what he visualized all summer.
"It was a dream come true."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett --Hudson