Vahe Gregorian

Tyreek Hill inspired to honor grandfather who helped him through tough times

Tyreek Hill’s plans for playoff TD celebration: 'We’re gonna take it old school'

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill gave out one hint for the playoff touchdown celebration he has been working on.
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Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill gave out one hint for the playoff touchdown celebration he has been working on.

In the wake of a family death that he made public via Twitter on Dec. 23, Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill performed admirably a day later against the Dolphins before spending several days in mourning.

On Tuesday, the first day he was available for comment since coach Andy Reid excused him from team activities, including the game at Denver on Sunday, Hill spoke with The Star about the meaning of the death of a grandfather he declined for personal reasons to identify by name.

“I just feel like it comes with life, you know what I’m saying?” said Hill, who said he had lost a grandfather on his mother’s side but noted it was not Herman Hill, the grandfather who along with his wife, Virginia, took part in raising Tyreek Hill. “My pops, he’ll always be remembered. The legacy lives on.”

In his case, Hill plans to pay further tribute to the man he previously honored on Twitter — a man “who kept me grounded and level headed through the adversity, I love you,” he wrote — by how he plays on Saturday when Tennessee visits Arrowhead Stadium in the playoff opener for the AFC West-champion Chiefs.

“I just feel like I owe it to him — not only him, but to other people who have helped me get to this goal,” Hill said. “Like I said, he’ll be missed, but I still have a job to do.

“I’m going to still play at a high level and continue to do what I’ve been doing.”

What he’s been doing has been nothing less than jaw-dropping. Hill has transformed any notion he was just a flash in the pan to so much more than a mere whirlwind.

Being among the fastest players in the game makes for a fine baseline, of course, but something else has emerged along Hill’s way to 75 catches for 1,183 yards and bloodhound nose for the end zone, with seven touchdown receptions and an 82-yard punt return TD.

KC Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith praised the progress of speedy second-year wide receiver Tyreek Hill, saying Tuesday that, “It’s hard to believe it’s only been two years” that he's been in the NFL.

He has rapidly achieved a highly advanced command of the nuances of the position: sure-handedness; precision route running (most of the time); how to leverage the way other teams play him; tracking the long ball and converting it into catches time and again by outmaneuvering or outwitting defenders; and downright balletic footwork.

“To see how far he’s come in two (seasons),” quarterback Alex Smith said, “it’s still hard to believe it’s only been two years.”

You could point to any number of examples. But one that stands out here was on a ball that was ruled out of bounds in the end zone against the Dolphins that would have been overturned if a fan’s video from the stands had been admissible to supplement the exasperating absence of a definitive television angle.

“When you’re watching it in slo-mo, those types of catches, it doesn’t really do them justice,” Smith said, particularly appreciating Hill’s “body awareness, spatial awareness” and deft toe-tapping that it took to “make it look easy” even at what Smith called 100 mph.

More to come, Hill suggests.

“I know I’m fast, and I know I can get by (defensive backs) real easy, but I don’t want to always rely on that,” he said. “I want to beat guys with my fundamentals and technique, so I can make it to the Pro Bowl one year as a receiver.”

As for the more immediate run?

Wearing a T-shirt on Tuesday that commemorated his NASCAR-themed TD celebration — available on his website, he said, “if you guys want to go and shop with The Cheetah” — he said he had a better celebration in mind for his next touchdown.

“Something just for the playoffs,” he said, offering one slight hint about what it might involve: “We’re just going to take it old school.

“All the old-school people out there, we got something for you, something good. You might like it.”

This isn’t the only way Hill has strived to establish himself in his second season since the Chiefs selected him in the 2016 NFL Draft under controversy just months after he had pleaded guilty to felony domestic assault and battery by strangulation of his pregnant girlfriend.

Since then, Hill has by all accounts been exemplary, worthy of the chants of his name when he sets up to take a punt return and intent on finding a way to give back.

Toward that end, he said Tuesday that he recently launched a foundation intended to help youngsters back home in southern Georgia who can’t afford college and may need help with anything from tuition to dormitory fees.

The idea that he hatched with friends from high school, he said, is nothing less than “to change our community.”

Ultimately, he added, he’d liked to expand the program to Kansas City.

“That’s what I’m working toward,” he said.

KC Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith spoke to the media on Tuesday about the long, dry spell since the franchise last won a playoff game at home. The Chiefs play host to the Tennessee Titans on Saturday in the AFC Wild Card game.

This week, he’ll be working toward helping the Chiefs win their first postseason game at Arrowhead since Jan. 8, 1994 — with a little more inspiration as he strives to pay homage to his grandfather.

“He’s going to continue to live through me — me and my other family members,” he said. “So we’ve just got to continue to be great and do what he would want us to do.”

Vahe Gregorian is a sports columnist at The Kansas City Star: 816-234-4868, @vgregorian