MORGANTOWN — WVU offensive coordinator Jake Spavital remembers the first time he met TCU quarterback Kenny Hill.
It was in 2013. Spavital had just been hired by Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin to fill the void left by departing offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, who took over as head coach of Texas Tech.
“He was already committed to Texas A&M,” Spavital said on Tuesday. “I took the job and went straight to a home visit with him that weekend. I went into his house and met the whole family and it’s been a good relationship ever since.”
Hill was the Texas Gatorade Player of the Year and a big “get” who redshirted while eventual Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel finished his college career with the Aggies.
“I got to spend two years with [Hill],” Spavital said, “and he’s really an exceptional kid. Pretty impressed with what he’s doing now. He had a bunch of highs and lows throughout the course of playing at Texas A&M, but to now overcome the adversity, have a clean slate and have success is something. He has a top-10 team and is doing a great job of leading them. He’s doing well with the offense.”
Hill torched South Carolina in his first start at A&M and praise was poured onto the sophomore. He nicknamed himself “Kenny Trill.” There were parties. It apparently wasn’t a good mix.
And then Hill transferred to TCU. In his first season there, the Horned Frogs went 6-7. He threw for 3,208 yards and 17 touchdowns but also 13 interceptions and a not-great passer ranking.
Yet now Hill, 6-foot-1, 212 pounds, has a better situation and is cashing in, as he and his teammates await WVU for Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. Big 12 game in Fort Worth, Texas. Dangerous receiver KaVontae Turpin is healthy. Ditto Shaun Nixon. Senior Desmon White has stepped up. Jalen Reagor was a top-100 wideout recruit. And Darius Anderson has led an impressive rushing attack. Together, it’s spelled a 4-0 record and a No. 8 ranking for the Horned Frogs.
All the while, Spavital has watched from afar.
“There’s been some text messages exchanged over the past couple of weeks,” Spavital said. “I talk to the kid all the time. I’ve always been a big fan of his and think he’s a pretty good quarterback. I always check in to see how he’s doing and how his family is doing.”
The pause button, however, has been hit a bit.
“The talking has been kind of limited over the last 10 days,” Spavital said. “It’s been pretty funny going back and forth though. I’ve just been sending him emojis. I sent the surprised-face emoji just to see how he reacted. He just laughed and says he’ll see me Saturday. I look forward to seeing him and the family.”
Hill has been impressive. In TCU’s 44-31 shocker over Oklahoma State in Stillwater, the quarterback passed for 228 yards and the team ran 52 times for 238 yards.
“He’s playing really well,” WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said of Hill. “He’s been taking care of the ball better. That was a knock on him in the past. And then [his play on] critical downs.
“They’re running the ball a good bit. They’re not asking him to sit back there and throw the ball 90 percent of the time. He has a lot of good people around him, but he is managing [games] extremely well.”
At times over the week, Holgorsen has compared Hill to Mountaineer quarterback Will Grier.
“I think [Hill’s improvement is a] natural progression with quarterbacks,” Holgorsen said. “Just becoming older. It’s very rare for them not to be better as seniors, especially fifth-year seniors. He was fortunate to play at a high level as a redshirt freshman, but then he had to go through some transition, which always sets people back. It’s not much different than what we’ll get from Will Grier a year from now. I mean, I think you’ll get an older, more seasoned, experienced, more comfortable guy.”
While Spavital knows Hill, Holgorsen knows TCU offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie, who played quarterback for the Mountaineer coach at Texas Tech.
“Sonny Cumbie has done a great job with him and he’s continued to progress into a very, very, very efficient quarterback,” Holgorsen said. “There are a lot of similarities with the [QB] we’ve got now, just a year older. They both had great high school careers and played early at their respective universities. They both transferred and found success.”
So have WVU’s defensive coaches picked Spavital’s brain about Hill?
“Everyone is going to ask that,” Spavital said. “The thing about Kenny is it was so long ago. When you evaluate him now you see he’s grown as a man, as a player. He’s more managing than taking those ill-advised throws with a gunslinging mentality. He’s operating and hitting the check-downs and just managing what they’re asking him to do. I think [defensive coordinator Tony Gibson] has a pretty good idea about Kenny, especially after facing him last year. They haven’t really come to me and asked, ‘How do we get in Kenny’s head.’”
Hill’s father Ken, by the way, played Major League Baseball for 14 years and was an All-Star pitcher for Montreal before later playing in the 1995 World Series for Cleveland.
“It’s a good athletic family,” Spavital said. “It’s been fun to watch Kenny and his little brother [Marcus] progress through high school and college ranks.”
Marcus Hill is a baseball player.
n Whereas WVU’s Elijah Battle was listed on the latest depth chart as a starting cornerback in front of freshman Kenny Robinson, Gibson said that’s misleading.
“That must have been a mistake somewhere,” Gibson said. “Robinson and Mike Daniels are the two corners that will start.”
When asked if lauded freshman defensive lineman Lamonte McDougle will start, Gibson said, “He will play a lot. Right now that stuff changes daily.”
Also, when asked if heretofore injured linebacker David Long and safety Toyous Avery will play against TCU, Gibson said, “I hope so.”
n Holgorsen on Tuesday spoke of his offensive linemen and said, “We’ve successfully played six. I need to see more.”
He said he’s “very happy” with redshirt freshman guard Josh Sills and is “glad to have Grant [Lingafelter] back [from injury].”