Undefeated Ohio State football season eases K.J. Hill's early personal frustration
In the end, the frustration was worth it for K.J. Hill.
The fifth-year senior hasn't had the monster season statistically that he envisioned at the start of Ohio State's season. That wore at him as the weeks went by.
But when it mattered most, Hill came up big. He caught the go-ahead and final touchdowns in Ohio State's 34-21 comeback victory over Wisconsin on Dec. 7 in the Big Ten championship game.
Hill caught seven passes for a season-high 83 yards in that game, pushing him past David Boston to become Ohio State's all-time leader in career receptions with 195.
“I was kind of frustrated all year because I knew I could beat it a long time ago,” Hill said in the postgame locker room. “But I felt like it just worked out that I did it in this game when the team needed me the most.”
Hill has 51 catches for 569 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. Those are solid numbers, but they'd be significantly higher if Buckeyes starters had played more in the second half instead of resting during repeated blowouts. That has tamped down on the statistics of all of the starters.
“At the beginning of the year, I was thinking I wasn't going to get it because of how the offense is operating this year,” Hill said of the record. “It was kind of hard because I came back (instead of declaring for the NFL draft) and I had some high expectations.”
He split the H-back position last year with Parris Campbell, who's now in the NFL. With that job primarily his, Hill figured he would rack up the receptions. But the routs, combined with a well-balanced offense featuring running back J.K. Dobbins and several quality receivers catching passes from Justin Fields, kept that from happening.
“We're 12-0,” Hill said before the conference title game. “We're playing for a Big Ten championship, and if we win that, we'll play for it all. So I have to put that aside and do what's best for the team.”
Ohio State coach Ryan Day said Hill has done that.
“It's a funny thing when you're the No. 1 scoring offense in the country,” Day said. “There are guys on the team that still feel like they don't have the numbers or stats they would like.
“It's a good problem to have. But when you play in some of the games like we've played early in the season, those guys aren't playing the second half; that's kind of one of the give-and-takes.”
The Buckeyes aren't playing Rutgers or Maryland anymore. On Dec. 28, they'll be playing defending national champion Clemson in the College Football Playoff at the Fiesta Bowl. If they win, they'll play in New Orleans for the national championship.
Hill was a redshirt freshman who played in a 31-0 loss to Clemson in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl, which was the last time the Buckeyes made the playoff. Whatever disappointment he may have felt over a season that fell short of his statistical goals will be forgotten if the playoff goes the Buckeyes' way.
“He's been a captain of this team,” Day said of Hill. “The guys who left last year, they left a legacy behind. Now K.J., Austin (Mack) and Ben (Victor) have an opportunity to leave a legacy behind because we still got a lot of football to play. I think overall he's done a great job with leadership this year.”
Hill got the postseason off to an ideal start with his performance against Wisconsin.
“I'm just blessed,” he said. “I just want to thank God for it and thank my teammates for making it possible also. I'm just living in the moment right now. I knew I could get (the record) this year, but I didn't know it was going to be like this, so I'm smiling ear to ear.”
Ohio State vs. Clemson
Where: Glendale, Ariz.
When: 8 p.m. Dec. 28
Radio: WNBS-FM/AM (97.1/1460)
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