Tyler Hilinski grew up in California, and became a standout quarterback at Upland High School. During his final two years, he’d achieved just about every school record imaginable for a passer. The kid was a good football player, amassing countless accolades and was a highly touted recruit.
During his recruitment, he’d received interest from plenty of universities. When it came to signing, he mulled over offers from Pennsylvania, Utah State, California, and Washington State.
He chose WSU, starting a relationship that implanted confidence amongst fans. After Luke Falk’s tenure at quarterback would come to an end, the transition would be easy. Coach Mike Leach assured everyone of Tyler Hilinski’s value, as he’d explained how much the player’s talents could help the program achieve new heights.
Leach has been able to bring the football program to success, having won nine games just this past season, setting up a firm foundation for the program’s future. Hilinski was part of the plan to help push this team to conference championships, with dreams of a national playoff appearance.
At first, it seemed as if Hilinski was out there so Leach could bark at starting quarterback Luke Falk, but Hilinski made it tough to find a reason to put Falk back in. Back in September, Hilinski came in during the second half against the Boise State Broncos as a replacement and delivered a thrilling performance. He threw 2 touchdown passes during regulation to lead the Cougars into overtime, at which point he’d thrown his game winning pass.
He was thrown into the Cougars’ game against the Arizona Wildcats at the end of October. Tyler showed no fear, as he racked up over 500 yards in the air. While he threw 4 interceptions and the team lost, Hilinski didn’t let it deter his confidence. He kept his head down and ran for 2 scores, doing whatever it took to keep his team in that game.
Hilinski was named the starting quarterback for the Holiday Bowl against the Michigan State Spartans. The game slipped out of the hands of the Cougars early on, but again Hilinski showed determination to throw until there was no time left on the clock. He finished the game completing 78% of his 50 throws, with 2 touchdowns.
Heading into next year, Hilinski would have become the starting WSU quarterback. The type of grit and fearlessness he displayed on the field was infectious, as Leach recognized, looking to Hilinski repeatedly for a jolt on the offensive side of the football.
In college football, the stakes are incredibly high. Teams competing for the best recruits, directors hurriedly filling out coaching positions, and players working tirelessly into shape for hard fought seasons can lead to high bouts of stress. For moments like these, it’s important for fans of the game to take a deep breath and realize that there’s much more to this sport than rankings, records, and money.
Tyler Hilinski was an amazing football talent, but so much more. He was a friend, a son, and a brother. There are no words to describe this moment, but a moment of peace for a young person who left this world too soon.