There’s a point in everyone’s life when their tank gets a fill up. I’m referring to the fuel that provides the inspiration for achievement, innovation and success, the situation or experience that creates that “why” moment.
For Tyreek Hill, the perennial All-Pro receiver who the Miami Dolphins traded a treasure chest of draft picks for, and gave what was at that time the largest contract ever given to a receiver, that moment came during his senior year of high school. But it wasn’t from one of the many touchdowns or track records he scored or set at Coffee High School in Douglas Georgia.
It’s the fact that the six-time Pro Bowler, who has averaged an eye-opening 11.1 touchdowns a year in his six NFL seasons, successfully hid from his friends and classmates that he lived in a home without electricity or running water for an entire year.
“My grandparents did everything they could for me. We had a home, but we didn’t have money to pay the lights and [bills],” Hill said. “I’d have to go to my aunts, uncles and friend’s houses to take showers. Nobody knew my whole senior year.
“I’d hear my mom and grandparents crying and told myself, ‘I’m going to take football serious. I’m going to do everything I can to provide for them,’ ” Hill continued. “I remember telling myself ‘we’ll never ever live like that ever again.’ I told myself, ‘I’ll never let anyone outwork me. I’d never let anyone tell me I can’t do something.’ From there it just took off.”
The journey from Garden City Community College to the NFL wasn’t a smooth one. It was filled with personal struggles, like being dismissed from Oklahoma State because of a domestic violence charge he pleaded guilty to, and life lessons that continue to spark personal growth. But the one constant was Hill’s work ethic, and commitment to maximizing his talents.
His competitive drive is the one aspect about Hill that has surprised his new coaches and teammates the most.
Fellow receiver Jaylen Waddle has taken note of Hill’s approach to the game, and intends to adapt it.
“I think I have a pretty good approach to the game, but his approach, every day.” Waddle said, emphasizing how hard Hill works. “He takes every day as a new challenge. He’s really a real-deal technician when we’re in meetings. He’s a true professional.”
Coach Mike McDaniel actually teases Hill whenever he isn’t clocked as the fastest player in practice each day.
“I make a huge deal with the team. I build it up like, ‘Tyreek, congratulations, man. You’ve been working so hard. You got third. Like, we’re all so happy for you.’ ” McDaniel said, referring to the trackers every player wears at practice, which monitors their daily activity and speed. “I did it enough where it pushed him to [work harder]. Tyreek entered into the 23s (miles per hour) which you don’t really see that often at practice, and all this speed talk is just making him go faster.”
You’d think a talent who is on a Hall of Fame track, one where he’d merely have to come close to duplicating what he’s done the first six seasons of his career to enter football’s most elite group, wouldn’t be that driven in practice.
But according to Hill, it’s his competitive nature, that promise he made to his 17-year-old self, that motivates him to push himself harder.
That’s why Hill can routinely be seen calling out Xavien Howard, the Dolphins’ top cornerback, to come defend him during 1-on-1 drills, and why he’s been actively seeking out opportunities to block outside linebacker Melvin Ingram, who is respected as one of the team’s top run-stuffers.
Hill and Ingram’s size disparity indicates that the receiver is no match for the three-time Pro Bowl pass rusher, but you’d never tell based on how committed Hill has been to getting that work in.
“I take that [expletive] personal, the same way I take being the best at what I do personal,” said Hill, who has averaged 5.2 receptions per game and 72.9 receiving yards per contest throughout his career. “I have some pride in this game. That’s why I come out here every day to challenge myself to be the fastest. I have to go against the best player I can go against.”
That’s because every challenge, every rep provides Hill an opportunity to distance himself from his difficult childhood, and he welcomes being challenged.
That’s why McDaniel often uses Hill as an example, making his errors a coaching point.
“Ten times out of 10, ever since we started with him here, whenever I do that, the next day in the team meeting, I get to show him correcting the mistake,” McDaniel said. “He’s the guy that I can be hard on [regarding] his route depths. And he’s the guy I can be hard on blocking. And every single time he puts it on tape that he not only heard the coaching point, but it was important enough to fix it immediately.”
That type of attitude and drive is part of the reason the Dolphins are confident the five-year, $140.6 million deal Miami gave him was money well spent and will pay off down the line.
“At this point in my career, the only thing I’m really thinking about is just winning games and doing whatever I can for this team,” Hill said. “When that day comes for me to get into the Hall of Fame, I’ll be thankful. I’ll be grateful for just being listed or even being considered to be in those categories …
“But for right now, I’m just focusing on what I can control and that’s my career, and that’s me going out there and balling.”
Omar Kelly is a former Dolphins columnist for the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
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