Hill quietly fills role as OSU's 'Mr. Reliable'
The name is Hill. That’s K.J. Hill.
At least stat geeks remember him. He was the top pass-catcher for Ohio State last year, at times the sure-handed, go-to man who propped up drives, the one who almost always was where he was supposed to be when a drive needed new life.
But as the Buckeyes prepared to roll out an enhanced passing game this season, replete with a new starting “pro style” quarterback in sophomore Dwayne Haskins Jr., and a fleet of veteran receivers led by Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin, Johnnie Dixon and Austin Mack, Hill’s name seemed to slip through the cracks.
One reason was because he couldn’t practice in the spring as he recovered from offseason shoulder surgery. Another was because he has never been accused of self-promoting. But, as he showed with his team-leading six catches in the season-opening romp over Oregon State last week, he could be called “Mr. Reliable.”
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“You could say that,” Hill said of the potential nickname after practice on Tuesday, as the Buckeyes turned their attention to Saturday’s Big Ten opener with Rutgers. “Because I know I have really good hands, so I try to catch everything that comes my way, and usually that’s what happens.”
He caught a team-high 56 passes last year. Though he spent most of the time in spring drills out of the spotlight due to his rehab, he was working on the side.
“All spring that’s all I was doing, just catching (passes) at different angles of the ball,” said the fourth-year junior from North Little Rock, Arkansas. “I feel like I can say I’m Mr. Reliable.”
He almost whispered it, though. Maybe he wants to keep it quiet, like the way his career-high 12 catches for 102 yards in the victory over Penn State last year was sort of lost in the wash, as were his key punt returns in the Big Ten title game win over Wisconsin.
“Any moment I get, I try to take the most advantage of it,” Hill said.
His teammates know his worth.
“K.J. is a tremendous receiver,” Mack said. “He has tremendous hands, and is able to catch the ball at 5 yards and make it into 11. … He brings a lot to the table.”
But that table is a big one in the receivers’ room, now under the direction of coach Brian Hartline. Along with Campbell, McLaurin, Mack, Dixon and Hill, there also are Binjimen Victor, Jaylen Harris and freshman Chris Olave — and that’s not all of them — pulling up a seat and holding up their hands.
“I feel like (in the opener) me and Terry (four catches, two for touchdowns) were hot, but then the next game it could be Johnnie and Ben, or something like that,” Hill said. “I know we all know that if it comes your way, you’ve got to make the most of it because you don’t know when it’s going to come back to you because of so many guys we’ve got.”