Mississippi State freshman running back Kylin Hill rips off a big gain on Oct. 14 against BYU at Davis Wade Stadium. Hill, who has rushed for 364 yards this season, ranks third among freshman in the Southeastern Conference. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch
December 29, 2017 9:58:59 AM
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Before Kylin Hill's first game as a Mississippi State football player on Sept. 2, his mother Karenda Hill was walking around campus with other family members -- all of whom were wearing custom T-shirts bearing Kylin's likeness.
Karenda quickly learned her son's reputation had preceded him among the fans.
"When I said Kylin Hill, pretty much everybody knew who he was. It was a great feeling," she said. "A lot of people knew I was his mom and I didn't even know half of those people, but they knew him."
That reputation only grew that day, as the running back and Columbus native ripped off 62 yards against Charleston Southern at Davis Wade Stadium, making his mother proud and setting the stage for a standout freshman season.
Kylin will take EverBank Field on Saturday when No. 24 MSU (8-4) meets Louisville (8-4) in the TaxSlayer Bowl as his team's No. 2 running back -- playing behind starter and junior West Point native Aeris Williams.
His 70 carries for 364 yards and two touchdowns have him third among freshman Southeastern Conference running backs. The work he has put in has been the first chapter of a dream realized, one that began as a child sitting in his living room watching the Bulldogs play, hoping he would one day be a part of it.
All along Kylin's journey -- through his stellar career at Columbus High and his freshman campaign at MSU -- he said he has leaned on his mother for support.
"My mom's been big time," he said. "Even during the season when I get frustrated -- as a freshman, you're going to get frustrated when you don't play a lot -- she was just there for me to keep my head up. I needed that. She always stayed in my ear. That was one of the main reasons I stayed close to home, so she could help me out."
Kylin may have turned to Karenda for help, but when it comes to getting on the field more than most MSU running backs, he has helped himself. MSU running backs coach and interim head coach Greg Knox has kept his message on Kylin's playing time consistent since the preseason: His talent to contribute is undeniable. All that's needed to make it happen is playbook knowledge.
Gathering that playbook knowledge has been "a process," Kylin said, one that continued as the season progressed. He will have to re-set it all as soon as the TaxSlayer Bowl is over and new MSU coach Joe Moorhead officially takes over, but Knox knows he is leaving behind a valuable player.
"He's worked and he's gotten smarter. He's going to be a good player down the road because he's still got so much to learn," Knox said. "I tell my guys all the time: You want to become a great player, become a smart player. The smarter you are, the better you'll be. If you understand the game mentally, you're going to beat your opponent."
The near future for Kylin could involve a shot at the starting running back spot. In any case, he's sure to make more memories for himself and his mom as he continues to realize his dream of playing SEC football.
As fond memories go, though, her son's first touchdown in Week 2 at Louisiana Tech may always be among her favorites. She said she saw it coming shortly after the ball was snapped.
"Nine times out of 10, when he's in the red zone, he's going to score," Karenda said. "I knew when they gave him the ball he was going to score a touchdown."
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