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West Alabama coach explains decision to accept Tyreek Hill, says multiple NFL teams were interested

Tyreek Hill on explaining himself during NFL draft process

After he was drafted by the Chiefs on Saturday, Tyreek Hill was asked by The Star's Terez A. Paylor how he explained to NFL teams what happened at Oklahoma State, where Hill was dismissed following an arrest that led to Hill pleading guilty to dom
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After he was drafted by the Chiefs on Saturday, Tyreek Hill was asked by The Star's Terez A. Paylor how he explained to NFL teams what happened at Oklahoma State, where Hill was dismissed following an arrest that led to Hill pleading guilty to dom

The Chiefs didn’t reveal much about their investigation into Tyreek Hill, the player they chose in the fifth round of the NFL draft, but Hill’s former coach shared some details about how they pursued Hill at West Alabama and why he chose to take the former Oklahoma State receiver/returner into his program.

Brett Gilliland said his first reaction was “no” when he saw a Stillwater Police incident report that detailed the night Hill was accused of punching and choking his then-pregnant girlfriend. Hill later pleaded guilty to domestic abuse by strangulation as part of a plea agreement that resulted in a deferred three-year sentence.

“As you get to know the kid,” Gilliland said, “get to know the people behind the kid, we started coming around to ‘Hey, there's more to this.’”

Gilliland said West Alabama spoke to people at Oklahoma State, Hill’s coaches at Garden City (Kan.) Community College and one of his high school mentors. Gilliland did not talk to Hill’s victim, who has since given birth to his child. Gilliland says he was swayed by the plea requirement that Hill remain a full-time college student or employed full time to avoid jail time.

Multiple efforts to reach the victim for this story were unsuccessful.

“We didn't think the judge would have done that if Tyreek wasn't able to handle that,” Gilliland said. “That was kind of the main straw for us.”

Despite the NFL facing increased scrutiny for not doing enough to discourage domestic violence after well-publicized assaults involving Ray Rice and Greg Hardy, the Chiefs were among multiple NFL teams interested in Hill.

Chiefs general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid explained why they drafted Tyreek Hill, who pleaded guilty to domestic abuse by strangulation. They spoke at a news conference Saturday, April 30 with Reid joining by phone.

Gilliland said 20 teams visited his campus in the past year and several teams came three times ― not including the pro day. West Alabama, a NCAA Division II school, hadn't had a player drafted since 1974.

“I thought there were several teams that wanted him real bad, and he had won the scouts over for those teams,” Gilliland said. “I felt like, since there was kind of a demand on him, with more than one team that wanted him, I really thought he had a good chance to get drafted.”

During the year, Gilliland remembers seeing at least two Chiefs scouts visit the school.

“They spent the entire day each time they came,” Gilliland said. “They came and they'd spend the whole day. They watched film, but on Tyreek, they didn't really have to watch a whole lot of film — they knew he could play. They met with me, they met with our strength coach and several of our other coaches and then they'd stay, meet with Tyrese and watch practice.”

One of the scouts was the Chiefs’ southeast scout, Ryne Nutt ― who served as the lead scout on Hill and Florida receiver Demarcus Robinson, who went to drug rehab for marijuana as a freshman ― and spoke Saturday about digging into players’ backgrounds as it pertains to football.

“You want to make sure your locker room can handle them, that they’re good people, they’re not going to stir up anything,” Nutt said. “They’re not me-guys, they’re not selfish. They’ve made mistakes in the past, they’ve owned up to them. But I think they’ll be fine when they come in, they’re not going to hurt the locker room in any way.”

Nutt said he spoke to the staffs at West Alabama and Oklahoma State about Hill, but didn't go into further detail. Chiefs coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey also declined to go into detail about how they vetted Hill, only stating repeatedly that they did “due diligence.” They also didn’t directly answer a question about whether they spoke with Hill’s victim.

“There’s certain things we can’t answer ― but we have done as much as we possibly can,” Reid said. “We talked to as many people as we possibly could.”

The Chiefs also invited Hill to Kansas City for a predraft visit, where he met with several members of the coaching staff.

“I know that I would never put this community in any type of situation where it would not be good,” Dorsey said. “I would like to ask for you guys to just have a little bit of trust in us in this thing.”

Four months after Hill was arrested in December 2014, he announced on Twitter that he was transferring to Akron. Gilliland said he heard from Akron assistant Todd Stroud in August 2015, the same month Hill entered his plea agreement, looking for another place for Hill to play.

According to Gilliland, Stroud told him Akron’s staff spent months doing background work on Hill as he awaited trial. But Gilliland said he did not know why Hill did not wind up playing there. Akron’s athletic department has not responded to an email request for an interview.

After Hill transferred to West Alabama, he met regularly with a counselor and with two mentors once a week. Gilliland also frequently met with Hill, who lived in an apartment near one of the team’s student assistants.

Gilliland also said Hill video-chatted with his victim, because they shared a child, but other people would be present, in case “anything were to ever be said.” But Gilliand said Hill didn’t cause any problems.

“He was on a pretty short leash,” Gilliland said. “We had a good support system around him, he knew that coming in. But it wasn't like we ever really had to enforce anything with him. He wanted to be successful, and he wanted to overcome his past.”

Hill faced a felony charge punishable by one to three years in prison but reached a plea agreement that resulted in a deferred three-year sentence that ends Aug. 15, 2018. If he completes probation without any incidents, the case will be removed from his record. Among the requirements of his probation, Hill has had to complete a domestic-abuse evaluation, an anger-management course and a year-long batterer’s program.

As part of his guilty plea, Hill signed a statement that read: “I was in a fight with my girlfriend that turned physical between us and I wrongfully put (her) in a headlock, putting external pressure on her neck that compressed her airway causing bodily injury.” After he was drafted Saturday, Hill expressed regret and said he was trying to move on and be a better young man.

Persons in the Kansas City area affected by domestic abuse are encouraged to call SAFEHOME, a shelter for victims, at 913-262-2868.

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