Last Friday night, Ryan Hilinski was in a pretty good place.
He’d helped lead his Orange Lutheran High School football team to a last-second win against a good opponent. The next day, the South Carolina quarterback commitment checked the Twitter account he keeps for reference (he’s not tweeting during the season), and the messages were a little odd.
“It starts blowing up,” Hilinski said. “And I look at it … and I see people tagging me and they’re like ‘Ryan, can you get here soon? Sooner than later.’ ‘Ryan, we need you now.’”
These came as Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley was having a trying game at Kentucky, one in which he hurt his knee and threw three interceptions.
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Some young players might see opportunity or bask in fans’ adoration. Hilinski felt empathy.
“Some people don’t understand how hard the quarterback position is,” Hilinski said. “Especially in the SEC, going against these defenses that are so tough.
“Some people just don’t understand how tough the quarterback position is, how many reads you have going into a week. How many run checks you’ve got to go through. It’s not excuse at all for (poor) play, but I think Jake is going to have a great game against Missouri. I think he’s going to do well the rest of the season.”
He was also on the receiving end of messages telling him to switch his commitment, enough messages to warrant reaffirming it on Monday.
To a degree, he understands the response. He knows it’s a cutthroat world where results matter in a big way. If someone isn’t performing, there’s blowback, and he might well feel some of that if he struggles in big spots.
“It’s just crazy to see that aspect,” Hilinski said.
At the moment, he’s leading a team facing plenty of adversity, but the squad is 4-2 and about to enter a brutal final stretch of the regular season (it includes three of the top six teams in the country in the MaxPreps computer rankings).
Hilinski says he’s talking to Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp and quarterbacks coach Dan Werner at least twice a week. Their message as they go through a trying early part of the season has been the simple “So what? Now what?” mantra they’ve used to ride out difficult spots before.
He said they’re telling him they don’t care about the past, only focus on what’s next.
“Those guys just keep drilling it into my head that you’ve got to be the same person every week, getting better and better and better, as better as you can be,” Hilinski said. “And they’re super cool about that.”