* Tyreek Hill at the 2012 USA U20 Championships in Bloomington, Indiana
Photo Credit: Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports
By Cory Mull - MileSplit USA
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What Jerry Hill remembers most about coaching Tyreek Hill in his final high school track and field season nearly a decade ago was how normal it all was.
Like how, after becoming the first high school athlete in Georgia state history to break 21 seconds for 200 meters at the state championships in Carrollton in 2012, Tyreek was eating buffett and then playing video games with his teammates and Jerry's then-8-year-old son, Evan, just hours later.
There were no national news outlets chasing down the future 5-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl winner for interviews.
"It wasn't like 'Tyreek is some international stud now.' It wasn't that," Jerry, 49, remembered of Tyreek Hill, who will line up for his second straight Super Bowl appearance on Sunday for the Kansas City Chiefs against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "It was just like they were kids still. They're playing video games."
Unlike some high school football stars of recent lore, who get documentary series made about their final years in high school, Tyreek didn't live that life. He wasn't treated like a local celebrity everytime he walked into a local restaurant, nor was he hounded for autographs everywhere he turned.
Douglas Coffee was a mid-sized Georgia high school with just over 1,000 students. So the 18-year-old's final spring track and field season with the Trojans was a rather conventional one, spent with friends and away from the national track and field radar -- in-depth coverage of the sport had yet to really hit full gear yet.
In some ways, Jerry thought, it was because few knew just how special his performances were.
"It was a big deal within a school, maybe the small community around us," he said. "But it wasn't applauded like it should have been. This kid had done something nobody had ever come close of doing. I thought it was a bigger deal than some other person might have thought. This thing, to me, was bigger."
Perhaps Hill, who stood at just 5-feet-9 inches and weighed roughly 185-pounds in high school, never really bought into any of that hype.
Even though he was a four-star receiver in football who made a habit of doing incredible things with the football -- a quick story: Jerry's first time even seeing Tyreek was in 2010, when, as a sophomore, the prep athlete absolutely destroyed Jerry's freshmen defensive squad to the tune of five touchdowns in practice.
Nor did many community members realize at the time that Hill had accumulated one of the top all-time sprint seasons in United States prep history.
But looking back, Jerry said, that season was special for all of those reasons. Tyreek's final track season was Jerry's first as the school's sprints coach and his third overall. And so those first few weeks were transitional. It took quite a bit of time for the coach -- who currently teaches engineering and technology -- and sprinter to warm up to one another.
"Around me for the first month, he was really quiet," Jerry said. "But he did exactly what he was told to do, woked hard and had a really strong work ethic. He just wasn't really talkative. He was shy and humble."
In time, the pair began to understand one another. Jerry, in particular, began to seek more information on sprint mechanics, all to help Tyreek fine-tune his races. Jerry worked hard to help his athlete improve his drive phase.
Some nights, he remembers watching YouTube clips and reading as much material he could find.
"'There's a wide variety of information out there," Jerry said. "So I got a good plan coming out of the blocks. I tried teaching him how to stay low, make that first step great and drive your arms. All that basic stuff you would teach a kid in learning how to sprint. At some point, when he got good coming out of the blocks, you could just see it. In the NFL, when he gets a step, you can see it now. He's just about gone."
Looking back, Jerry believes the pair had a mutual respect for one another, and that ultimately brought them closer together as athlete and coach.
"I soon figured out that you can teach a kid how to come out of the blocks or throw a shot put or tell them how to start a 400," Jerry said. "But until you have that bond with that kid as a coach -- until you have that bond -- you can't reach that level of success that a kid is capable of. If you can ever tap into that, and that kid knows that you believe in him, the sky is the limit."
Now consider how just how incredible Hill's performances were in 2012. At just 18 years old, he went on to break 21 seconds for 200 meters a total of five times, including a then-US No. 2 all-time wind-legal performance of 20.14 (+1.8) seconds at the Golden South Classic in Orlando.
Tyreek was one-hundredth of a second off the national and senior class record of 20.13, which Roy Martin accomplished in 1985 -- a time Noah Lyles ultimately surpassed in 2016.
Hill also ran a top 10 all-time effort in the 100m of 10.19 (+1.8) at the same meet.
That same year -- the year of the London Olympics -- Hill's 200m performance stood up as the 14th fastest time in the world. He was the sixth-fastest American.
While Hill was named a USA Today Track and Field All-American in 2012 and Atlanta's Track Athlete of the Year, Gatorade omitted him from the state's Athlete of the Year award, instead handing it to hurdler Jonathan Jones -- who secured a 110mH best of 13.69, a PR of 37.47 in the 300mH and a best of 23-11 in the long jump.
Again, Jerry believes Tyreek was overlooked.
"I talked about it with people, 'Can you believe what this kid is doing?" Jerry said. "I think we had one news station locally who did something on him."
More than any other moment, though, the state championships -- which at the time were called The Georgia Olympics -- were where Tyreek's track and field legacy was borne.
The final day of competition on Saturday, Coffee had about seven athletes in Carrollton. At the time, the program did not bring a tent to wait out the heat, so after each even the team would reconvene on the bus to talk and relax.
"The time we spent as a team, joking around and having a good time," Jerry said, "that's where the cameraderie of the team and the coaches really came together. That's the biggest thing I remember about that season."
That weekend, Hill would go on to win the long jump with a career best of 23 feet, 11 inches and then would win the 100m in 10.44. At some point, Jerry finally begun to realize that Tyreek's performances were being held with astounding merit by others -- adidas had voiced their opinion in getting him to the Golden South Classic, where he could qualify for the adidas Boost Boston Games.
"After his prelims, a guy asked Tyreek if he could break 21," Jerry said. "He said, 'Oh yeah.' And then we talked about it. I just said, 'You have to go get it. Under 21 is big-time.'"
Having confidence is one thing, but deep down, was he sweating?
No one would know but Tyreek. And yet, going into that race, it was probably unlike any feeling he had ever faced in football. It was the kind of pressure where creativity and instinct on the field couldn't make up for a bad start out of the blocks.
Then the gun went off. Something special clicked in after 100 meters.
Once Tyreek got past the curve and had a step on the next lane over, he started to run away with it. He finished in what was then a new-Georgia state record time of 20.94 seconds.
"I think he was shocked," Jerry said. "Like I said, no one had ever done it. He just shifted gears and left it all on the track. I don't know if he believed he could do it until he did. That's what you see at the end."
That state championship performance, however, empowered Hill to keep going.
After securing all-time performances at the Golden South Classic, he went on to compete in New York at the adidas Boston Boost Games, then doubled at the USA U20 Championships, winning both the 100m and 200m and qualifying for the IAAF World Athletics U20 Championships in Barcelona.
Hill finished fourth in the 100m (10.29) and third in the 200m (20.54) at World Juniors, and helped Team USA win the 4x100.
But to say anyone envisioned the Georgia teen being in that moment, at that time, would be a flat-out lie.
Jerry and Tyreek's dream season simply lived on as far as it could.
"I told him when he got back, 'If I had been there, I think you could have won the 200m,'" Jerry said. "He was going against kids who were faster and had better coaching. I was a first year sprints coach. But I happened to get a chance to tap into a kid who needed little coaching. He already had the tools, he maybe just needed a little bit of a push, a little more belief.
"Tyreek was already an elite athlete long before that," Jerry said. "Everywhere he's been, every spot he's ever been, as long as he's believed he can do it, and he works toward it, he can do it."
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Contact MileSplit's Cory Mull at email@example.com or on Twitter @bycorymull if you have a story you'd like to tell.
* Tyreek Hill during relaxes ahead of The Super Bowl on Sunday in Tampa Bal, Florida
Photo Credit: USA Today Sports
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Coda: Tyreek Hill's journey in track and field didn't stop in high school. At the 2013 NJCCA Championships in Hutchinson, where he ran for Garden City CC, Hill ran a wind-aided 100m time of 9.98 (+5.0) seconds, losing to future Canadian sprinter Andre De Grasse, who would go on to earn bronze in the 100m at the 2016 Rio Olympics against Usain Bolt. At Oklahoma State, Hill won a Big 12 championship in the 200m and later became an All-American in the 60m and 200m. In his pro day at West Alabama, he ran a 4.29 40-yard-dash time.