Getting feet wet: Freshmen getting their opportunities with Bulldogs

Keytaon Thompson (10) prepares to throw a pass for MSU.
Staff Writer

Sometime in the not-too-distant future, it’s not too hard to picture true freshmen Keytaon Thompson and Kylin Hill as the backbone of Mississippi State’s offense.

Thompson, MSU’s backup quarterback, and Hill, a running back, are each highly-regarded youngsters. They both have high ceilings and both are getting their feet wet and getting on-the-job training this season as contributors for the Bulldogs.

So far this year, Thompson and Hill say they are using their opportunities as chances to lay the foundation for the future.

“I’m feeling good,” Hill said. “The games that I play in, it’s just more experience. I’m learning a lot of stuff.”

Thompson feels similarly.

“I’m feeling comfortable now,” Thompson said. “My heart rate has slowed down (from earlier this season). I’m seeing things from defenses much better. I’m seeing the checks. I’m seeing plays I can make and plays I can’t. I’m just much more comfortable.”

For all their similarities and familiar growing pains, Thompson and Hill each have different roles in their first year as Bulldogs. Hill has jumped up the depth chart and become one of the go-to guys to spell starting running back Aeris Williams. Through five games, Hill has lived up to the hype surrounding him when he became MSU’s most highly-rated running back signee in 15 years as he has rushed for 190 yards and a touchdown. Williams is the only other running back on the roster with more rushing yards than Hill.

“He’s growing and growing,” MSU running backs coach Greg Knox said of Hill. “He’s getting smarter. That’s the whole key to his progress is that the more he can learn, the better player he’ll be.”

Hill has all the physical skills to become a star in the Southeastern Conference. He’s 5-foot-11 and weights 212 pounds. His frame looks to be chiseled out of stone. A lot of times, Hill’s physical skills are enough for him.
However Knox says, for Hill to take the next step in his growth, development must come between the ears.

“His biggest thing to grow is being able to better learn the offense and be able to react without thinking,” Knox said of Hill. “He has to get a signal, then react to that signal and do less thinking. Right now, he’s still thinking. He gets a signal and he’s still thinking about what he has to do and how he has to do it. Guys like (junior running back Dontavian Lee) and (Williams), once they get a signal, they just react and don’t think anymore. They know exactly what they’re doing. (Hill) is trying to get himself to that point.

“There are a lot of things that just take time, but he’s working at it. He’s getting better. I’m seeing him take steps forward and he’s making progress.”

Hill admits he has had trouble making his mind slow down. Now at the midway point of the season though, he says he’s settling in.

“When I first got here, I was just worried about not messing up and I was thinking too much,” Hill said. “Now I’m just more comfortable and relaxed and I’m just playing my game. I’m ready to go.”

Thompson, too, is finding his groove. With all five of MSU’s games this season decided by lopsided margins one way or the other, it has provided Thompson with the chance to play in every contest. He has completed six of his 17 passes for 63 yards and a touchdown. He has rushed for 102 yards on 15 carries.

Thompson has been pleased with the work he’s done so far, but is far from satisfied.

“There have been a few plays here and there I’d like to have back,” Thompson said. “Aside from those few plays, I think I’ve done well.”

MSU quarterback coach Brett Elliott says Thompson is “way ahead” of where most true freshman quarterbacks are at this point. Elliott said Thompson had to adjust early on this season as he adapted to the college lifestyle, but at this point, Thompson is finding his rhythm on and away from the field and he continues to learn and grow.

“He’s gone through ups and downs like any freshman with a class load and all that, but he has rebounded well,” Elliott said. “He has learned to manage his time a little better.”

On the field, Elliott says MSU has been working with Thompson to adjust his throwing motion. The Bulldogs want Thompson to get the football higher, not push it as much and develop a more natural motion.

Elliott believes Thompson will be fully comfortable with all that by this spring. It will give another layer of talent to Thompson, who Elliott says even has “a little bit more natural quarterback in him” than starter Nick Fitzgerald.
“They’re different players, but they’re both big, dual-threat guys,” Elliott added.

Both Thompson and Hill’s brightest days are likely ahead of them. Hill will continue to work on the mental aspects of his game while Thompson fine tunes his throwing motion and other components of his craft.

In the meantime, Mississippi State supporters can sit back and enjoy watching the next wave of talented offensive Bulldogs grow up right before their very eyes.