Vahe Gregorian

NFL’s fastest man: Chiefs are reaping rewards after risky pick of Tyreek Hill

Tyreek Hill’s Twitter handle is @ImFasterThanYa, which is less hyperbole than a provable scientific fact when it comes down to all but a select few on Earth.

In fact, it’s intriguing to picture him in a race against Terrance Gore, the Royals’ human blur considered by many the fastest man in baseball.

For a sense of his speed, consider that as a high school senior in 2012 he ran the 200-meter dash in 20.14 seconds — .01 behind Roy Martin’s national high school record, in a time that would have been sixth in the 2012 London Olympics.

But Hill had an inkling he had a special gear years before. He was 6 years old the first time he was conscious of it, he said Wednesday.

When the Georgia native was playing out on a dirt road with some cousins around twice his age, wild dogs suddenly appeared.

The panicked kids took off.

“I was the first one to make it back to the house — know what I’m saying?” Hill said, smiling.

As for any races since then?

“Yeah, I lost … one time,” he said with a comedic pause.

So Hill has rare and spectacular speed, enough of it that the rookie leads the Chiefs in touchdowns with nine after adding two more in their 21-13 win over Oakland on Dec. 8.

While his play has to be far beyond what the Chiefs could have expected by now, this is why they were willing to flout public sentiment and draft him only months after he pleaded guilty to domestic abuse by strangulation of his then-pregnant girlfriend in 2014 and received a three-year suspended sentence.

It remains difficult for many of us reconcile his presence and the insensitivity the Chiefs demonstrated in drafting him, a decision that was particularly jarring here less than four years removed from linebacker Jovan Belcher’s murder of Kasandra Perkins before he killed himself at their training complex.

But since they indeed did draft him, and he is indeed quite here, the greater good for all is in hoping for his redemption off the field even as he is proving a revelation on it.

There is no way to predict how that will go, of course, so you’re left to go on faith that the Chiefs are taking this as seriously as they seem to be on the surface, and that Hill is as invested in that as he is in his play.

According to coach Andy Reid, Hill is thriving in all he’s supposed to be doing to rehabilitate himself — which presumably includes participating in court-mandated anger-management classes and completing a year-long batterer’s intervention program.

“I do those things in order for me to be a better person,” Hill said in a recent interview. “I’m really dedicated and I’m going to stick to it, so I can be a better man and a better citizen for this community and a better father to my son.”

Asked to expand, Hill said the classes were “like therapy, getting things off my chest,” and said he is providing financial assistance for that son, Zev.

Attempts to contact his victim to clarify this have been unsuccessful, and of course there remains much we don’t know about the situation ... or Hill.

In some ways, his past seems as elusive as he is on the field.

He is made available only for group interviews, for instance, even when a request is made to the Chiefs to speak with him only about his childhood. That upbringing is a mystery in itself.

After the Chiefs drafted Hill amid much criticism by The Star and others, numerous attempts were made to reach Herman and Virginia Hill, the grandparents who raised him.

A Chiefs spokesman later told The Star the Hills told him to convey they don’t wish to be interviewed, which of course is their right but leaves a void in his tale.

As it happens, Hill and his otherworldly abilities didn’t simply materialize out of nowhere — or as he ran from wild dogs.

And at least some explanation of his speed and evident hunger to play were illuminated a few weeks ago when my colleague Terez Paylor and I met with Derrick Shaw — Hill’s father.

Shaw contacted The Star by email the day after a column I wrote about the dilemma Hill presents Chiefs fans.

In the few hours in which we spoke about many things, he filled in some blanks about his son.

Hill’s birth parents, Shaw and Anesha Hill (now Sanchez), were raised about 220 miles southeast of Atlanta in Pearson, Ga., a 3.4-square mile town with a population of 2,117 as of 2010.

According to the 2000 census, nearly a third of the population was under the poverty line.

“Everybody there falls into a cycle,” Shaw said, adding the analogy of “crabs in the barrel” trying to pull back anyone who attempts to climb out.

In his case, Shaw, 39, escaped to become a college graduate and, for the last 11 years, an account manager at PDQ Services in the Atlanta area.

That was despite spending part of his high school years homeless, with his mother having what he called “mental” issues and his father “in trouble” and gone to California for a long time.

“Streets make you tough,” he said. “When you know you don’t want the life that you came from, you do whatever you can to make things better. I didn’t want my children to have the life I lived, so I worked hard.”

After a basketball game during his junior year of high school, he got the news that his son had been born to Anesha. The boy was named Tyreek by the time he got to the hospital.

Soon thereafter, it was decided that he’d be raised by Anesha’s parents, Herman and Virginia.

“I was pretty much over there all the time” before he went to college the next year, Shaw said. But “his grandparents are his parents,” Shaw added, and great ones at that. Herman Hill also often coached Tyreek’s youth football teams

“I try to just do the things (Tyreek) wants me to do,” Shaw said, “whatever he needs me to do.”

The circumstances weren’t ideal, but Shaw counted on a few things:

He considered the Hills good people who would raise Tyreek the right way.

And he knew Tyreek would have athletic gifts.

After all, Anesha Hill played basketball and was a track sprinter. And Shaw was a basketball player who went on to play at Life University after winning a state 300-meter hurdle championship and finishing fourth in the 100 during his senior year of high school.

“The genes really did combine well with (Tyreek),” Shaw said.

In a 2014 interview with Fox Sports Southwest, Virginia Hill said Tyreek always enjoyed a good relationship with his birth parents, including their daughter, who lives in Oklahoma and could not be reached for comment.

The child was radiant but shy and at times got bullied in school. He would never be one to pick a fight, his father said, but he had to learn to defend himself when picked on because his skin was “a little darker than everybody else.”

In ninth grade, the Hills moved so Tyreek could go to Coffee High School, larger enough for Hill to get more exposure for his athletic prowess.

And so he did, though his grades weren’t good enough to go directly to a major college. But he played well enough at junior college in Garden City, Kan., to land an opportunity at Oklahoma State. Kicked out of Oklahoma State after assaulting his girlfriend, he finished his college career at West Alabama.

Now the precocious Hill has found a starring role with the Chiefs.

“For a young kid, the stage is not too big,” said Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. “He does not blink out there.”

But what sets Hill apart in the NFL realm that he is suddenly bestriding — at all of about 5-foot-7 — is his ability to run at nearly world-class speed in a helmet and pads as other very fast men swarm him.

His uncanny blend of acceleration, balance, power, sense of where he is and sheer foot-speed explain how he clocked the NFL’s fastest time this year, 22.77 mph, in his return of a free kick for a touchdown at Denver.

Against the Raiders, the anticipation of him running with the ball manifested itself in the spectacle of thousands of fans at Arrowhead Stadium chanting, “Ty-reek, Ty-reek, Ty-reek,” as he waited for a punt that he promptly returned 78 yards for a touchdown.

You could go to decades of NFL games and never see such a personalized chant before a play … let alone the ensuing result.

This X-factor, both in their offense and on special team, gives the Chiefs an entirely new dimension in a 10-3 season that continues on Sunday against Tennessee with legitimate visions of a deep postseason run.

If he continues at his current pace, Hill surely will become a candidate for NFL rookie of the year — which would provide yet more to process about his visibility even as he pays his debt to society during his suspended sentence.

Vahe Gregorian: 816-234-4868, @vgregorian