As a high school senior in 2012, Tyreek Hill zoomed out the 200-meter dash in 20.14 seconds — a time that would have been good for sixth in the 2012 London Olympics and stood just .01 behind Roy Martin’s national high school record.
His is what might be termed a blinding speed in more ways than one, particularly in the sense that it still tends to obscure the broader spectrum of uncanny skills that makes him one of the elite receivers in the NFL. And we’ll come back to that.
But if things had unfolded differently, track could have emerged as his best sport or the one he chose. And then you might have seen him competing over the next few days in the Tokyo Games instead of becoming a virtually indispensable part of what makes the Chiefs a leading contender for a third straight Super Bowl appearance.
For that matter, he has considered seeking an Olympic berth over the years, he said Friday at training camp, reiterating a hope he expressed to the media just before Super Bowl LIV. But he has determined the vague notion isn’t as important as trying to spend time with family in the offseason.
Even without certified Olympic stature, though, perhaps the fastest man in the NFL radiates the same sort of amusing swagger and bluster about his speed that we’ve come to expect from Olympic sprinters.
A typical example was delivered on Friday, when it was suggested that defensive back L’Jarius Sneed “kind of kept up” with him on one play.
Before the question even was completed, Hill’s face twisted up and maybe his head tilted a little and he said “hold on” repeatedly rapid-fire some six, seven or eight times.
Playful as he might be about it, his speed clearly is a point of profound pride. And that’s what animates his revived mock-feud with Usain Bolt, the eight-time Olympic gold medalist who retired in 2017 but retains the 100- and 200-meter world records.
The two met in 2019 for a series of various speed challenges (along the lines of who could send out a tweet or blow up a balloon faster). And evidently it was around that time when Hill started trying to cajole Bolt into a race.
Or, as Bolt put it Thursday on “The Pat McAfee Show:” Hill “was talking, ‘blah, blah, blah.’ But, then I went to the (NFL) combine one year, and if you go on the ‘net right now, I ran 4.22 in my sweats and some street shoes.
“I was like, ‘Come on, Tyreek Hill. You got no chance!’”
To which Hill responded on Twitter, “line up then stop hiding” … punctuated with the so-called “woozy face” emoji apparently to convey bewilderment.
And Hill had more to say when asked about Bolt Friday.
“I’m going to tell you like this, man: Usain Bolt got out of the game for a reason, alright,” he said. “He’s old. He’s washed up, and he can’t see me at 40 yards. 100-yard dash, yes, that’s what he does: 40-yard dash … (he) cannot see me.”
Hill has seen that his own speed is something special for a long, long time now. Asked in 2016 when he became conscious of that special gear at his disposal, the Georgia native said he was about 6 years old.
He was playing on a dirt road with cousins perhaps twice his age when wild dogs suddenly appeared. The terrified kids took off.
“I was the first one to make it back to the house — know what I’m saying?” Hill said, smiling.
Proud as he is of what that has come to mean, the world-class speed made it easy for some to have perceived him as one-dimensional … or even as a one-trick pony, per the Jalen Ramsey “return specialist” bit from 2018 that Hill has enjoyed as motivational fodder.
Meanwhile, though, he’s become both a stellar receiver and about as multi-dimensional as can be for a variety of reasons. Those include foundational talent, work ethic and the vision of coach Andy Reid.
The ability to master the nuances of the position, he figures, was something he always had in him. But Reid, he said, “unlocked … something in me that, like, none of my coaches ever did. Including my dad. So Dad, you were bad.”
He was joking about his dad, of course. But it’s also true that between the scheming of Reid, the generational talent of quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the complementary threat of tight end Travis Kelce something indeed was unlocked in Hill.
You could break that down in any number of ways.
See it through the eye test in the precision of his routes or his astounding body control or the sixth-sense of spatial awareness.
Or process it in raw numbers like the fact that he has 58 career touchdowns (sixth-most in franchise history) and that last season he broke the 4,000-yard receiving plateau faster than any player in Chiefs history (in 58 career games; Otis Taylor achieved it in 59).
Then there’s this stat that brings it all together and helps explain why he’s one of the most mesmerizing players you’ll ever see:
Entering the 2021 season, Hill has unleashed 21 plays of at least 50 yards in his career; 19 of those went for touchdowns, the most of that range in the NFL since he entered the league in 2016.
All because he’s fast, to be sure. But it’s also because he’s so much more than that, which he’s demonstrated many times over by now.
So as fun as it might be to project what he could have done with track and at the Olympics, it sure seems he was drawn to the right sport.