by Hannah Martin
It would be fair to say that Taysom Hill is a “do-it-all” quarterback for the Saints. But that doesn’t necessarily begin to cover one of the most interesting stories in the NFL.
Hill’s story began in Pocatello, Idaho where he played quarterback for Highland High School and was the All-Idaho Player of the Year, Gatorade High School Player of the Year and first-team all-state selection in 2009.
Hill received offers from many schools in the West including Arizona, Boise State, Washington State, Stanford and BYU. He ended up committing to Stanford under then-coach Jim Harbaugh but never actually attended Stanford. Instead, he decided to fulfill a two-year Mormon mission trip in Australia.
“Me wanting to serve a mission was really me, you know, recognizing the things that I was blessed with and me wanting to give back in a small way,” Hill said.
He spent two years away from everything he had known. In those two years he didn’t touch a football or even a weight. His focus was serving his mission trip.
When Hill had completed the trip, he decided to return home and jump back into his football career at BYU, where the football program was more familiar with athletes serving mission trips than most programs. He made sure he returned home in the best shape possible to hopefully make his transition back into football easier.
It would be fair to stay that Hill doesn’t give up easily.
By his junior season at BYU, Hill was a Heisman Trophy candidate with the likes of Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston – both are now starting NFL quarterbacks. That season, however, was cut short due to an injury. That was all too familiar for Hill as four of his five seasons at BYU ended in injuries -- a knee injury, a broken fibula, a foot fracture and an elbow strain.
What got Hill through all those injuries?
“I think a lot of people obviously recognize like, ‘oh, you had four season-ending injuries, how did you physically get back from that?’ And that was obviously difficult. The more difficult thing in my experience was going from being a starter, a team captain to really not being able to help and contribute on football field and mentally and emotionally that was a really difficult transition to go through.”
Hill would go back to advice he received from Harbaugh, who he stayed in contact with after the recruiting process.
“He shared with me an experience that he had when he was playing at Michigan where he had just broken his arm his junior year and wasn't able to play and compete,” Hill said.
Harbaugh told Hill that the best way to fill the void of not being able to play football was to compete in something else.
“I went and competed in the classroom,” Hill said. “That filled the void mentally and emotionally of where I was feeling like I was like still contributing to Taysom Hill the person, as well as rehabbing and getting back and ready for the next season, which was also contributing to Taysom Hill the football player. That's what really got me through all my injuries is I made sure I had something else that was going on in my life that was giving me self-fulfillment. That was the biggest thing for me.”
Hill ended up graduating from BYU with a degree in finance.
It would be fair to say that Hill is willing to do whatever it takes.
The Packers brought Hill to camp in 2017 as an undrafted free agent. The coaches quickly liked what they saw and planned to sign him to their practice squad after preseason.
Meanwhile, Saints head coach Sean Payton had been studying film on wide receiver Max McCaffery. Payton then noticed the person that was throwing the ball to McCaffery. He was intrigued and wondered why Hill was not brought to his attention sooner.
Not too long after that, the Saints picked up Hill off of waivers and he was in New Orleans.
“There was no grace period,” Hill said.
He found out that Saturday that the Saints had picked him up, he flew to New Orleans on Sunday and was out practicing on Monday before the regular season opener against the Vikings.
His experience in New Orleans was culture shock compared to what he was used to in Idaho. But one thing stood out to him: “The city was unique, the people were unique and I felt the love for the Saints the second that I got to New Orleans,” he said.
Hill was trying to learn as much as he could from quarterbacks Drew Brees and Chase Daniel at the time. For a long time, the backup quarterback position behind Brees has been one of minimal regular season in-game action. In the last decade, only one quarterback for New Orleans other than Brees has started a game due an injury for the signal-caller. The starting quarterback spot for Hill looked out of reach for the time being.
“I was just trying to do the best I could and trying to catch up and learn the system,” Hill said. “When you start to look at the system of Drew Brees and coach Payton and how long those guys have been together, that's a difficult transition for a rookie quarterback. I was just really trying my best to soak up everything I possibly could from Drew and from Chase Daniel.”
Hill’s career took a fascinating turn late in the 2017 season when then-Special Teams Coach Mike Westhoff needed a player to cover kick returns.
Hill was that guy.
In his career up to that point, Hill had done a lot of things. In high school he played wide receiver, running back while also serving as the punter/kicker. Hill grew up a multi-sport athlete. He ran track, competing in the long jump and 200-meter run.
But covering a kickoff in the NFL? That was a new one.
“When the special teams coaches came to me and they had this experiment of putting me on special teams, it was a whole other ballgame where I went through that experience all over again of trying to learn a new system and new positions that were so foreign to me,” Hill said.
Hill worked with secondary coach Aaron Glenn on tackling drills, all while still wearing his red non-contact jersey, the week before he would take his first shot at playing special teams.
In his NFL regular season debut against the Panthers, Hill picked up two tackles and came close to blocking two punts. Payton gave Hill the special teams game ball following the win.
Payton continued to find new ways to use Hill last season which his stat line attests to: 3-for-7 passing with 64 yards, 37 rushing attempts for 196 yards, three receptions, 14 kick returns for 348 yards, six special teams stops and a blocked punt.
His first kick return was a 47-yarder against the Browns. The following week against the Falcons he returned three kicks for 64 yards, made a tackle on special teams, was used a tight end to block and even ran the ball three times for 39 yards. Hill scored his first touchdown against the Redskins where rushed five times for 24 yards.
Hill picked up the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honor when he blocked a punt against the Buccaneers that led to the Saints comeback victory and clinched the division title. He was also a key part in the Saints NFC Divisional Playoff win against the Eagles. New Orleans was down by 14 points at the start of the second quarter when Payton called a fake punt on fourth down using the team’s “secret weapon.” Hill was able to get the first down which ultimately sparked the comeback.
During this training camp, Hill could still be seen practicing with special teams covering kicks and working on his tackling drills, but Payton is seeing his progress as a quarterback. Payton raves about his abilities as a leader and a teammate and that his grasp of the offense is continuing to increase.
“Well, his grasp of the offense, his ability to take the play into the huddle out to the line of scrimmage, get us in the right play (have improved),” said Payton. “And then the things that are harder to see or the things that can happen in a game when a play breaks down and he can advance it. He's doing well.”
For now, Hill will take any opportunity he can to get on the field. He might not have the starting quarterback position that he would like, but he’s still been able to compete and throw himself in a role where he is successful. It goes hand in hand with the advice he got from Harbaugh.
“I had zero expectation that my career would go this way in the NFL,” Hill said. “But I will say that the quarterback position is a unique position where obviously there's only one guy that plays. I've always been a competitor. I've always loved being on the field and competing. I have had so much fun being able to get on the field, be in the huddle with Drew, be on the field with my teammates. And it's been a really unique experience.”
So, what exactly is Hill? You could call him a “do-it-all” player. Maybe even a swiss-army knife type of guy. It would be fair to call him all of those things.
To Hill, he is and always will just be a quarterback.
“It's really been a fun experience for me,” Hill said. “I couldn't ask for anything more.”