Across the span of less than an hour, people saw two very different sides of South Carolina freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski.
At one point Wednesday night in Columbia’s Busby Street Community Center, Hilinski was sharing some details from the most difficult parts of his life with a decent-sized crowd, mostly young people. Soon after, when a question about football came up, he called an impromptu gathering of kids in the room to come up front, turn to a USC camera person and lead a cheer asking Will Muschamp and Harris Pastides for football tickets.
He was there as part of a symposium for National Youth Violence Prevention Week, an event with the theme “What I Want to Say Is.” The topics discussed ranged from bullying to sex trafficking to depression, a topic Hilinski touched on.
His brother Tyler killed himself in January of 2018. The family had little sense something was amiss, and since then, he’s been vocal about issues of mental health (his family started a foundation called Hilinski’s Hope).
So that’s how Ryan Hilinski came to be sitting alongside three police officers, two experts in human trafficking and domestic violence and teammate Spencer Eason-Riddle, a member of the Gamecocks who volunteers often.
Hilinski started by speaking about the death of his brother and not knowing what precipitated it. He shared several philosophies about the way people show themselves to the world, hold back themselves and what they’re going through on the inside.
“That’s something that you’ve got to take care of first and foremost,” Hilinski said. “That’s something that matters the most to you and that you can only alter and you can only take care of.
“We can get through this life together as long as we have each other and you have yourself.”
Hilinski also talked about some of the hardest moments, right after his brother’s suicide when he let his relationship with his parents grow distant.
His family has moved to Columbia with him, partly so that they’ll never be apart after football sent his two older brothers great distances from their home in California. But for a stretch, the family was in disarray.
“I didn’t talk to my parents for two months,” Hilinski said, noting he mostly ordered food and hardly left his room for a month. “We didn’t know what was going on. We were in shock. We didn’t know what to do. That all could’ve been prevented if we just talked to each other. If we just mentioned, ‘Hey, how’s your day going?’ Stuff like that.
“Your family is your No. 1 resource.”
He was explaining this to a group of kids, imploring them to trust and stay close to their parents (“they know best”). He said he took his own for granted and now considers them the strongest people he knows.
He also dropped a piece of advice.
“Be yourself,” Hilinski said. “Everybody else is taken. Be you because that’s all that matters.”
Eason-Riddle spoke about bullying and getting through the difficult parts of youth. He said Marcus Lattimore approached him about doing it, and the public speaking aspect of it was something different.
“I’ve never really done the panel stuff before and talked about really important issues that are really prevalent in any community,” Eason-Riddle said. “It’s important to take these opportunities as they come and be a part of being a role model and someone these kids can look up to.”