It feels like forever since the young man who once dubbed himself “Trill” was just a five star quarterback trying to plan his future. The former Southlake star was a top ten quarterback in the country when he signed with Texas A&M, recruited by Kliff Kingsbury, Jake Spavital, and David Beatty - all names very familiar to college football fans.
After two, well-documented, tumultuous seasons in College Station, Hill landed with the Horned Frogs, playing two seasons, and leading the Frogs to a Big 12 Championship game appearance, 11 wins, and a crazy come-from-behind bowl victory as a senior. His turn at QB for TCU was, overall, a successful one. After football, Hill attempted a pro future, signing first with the Oakland Raiders in the NFL, and later with the Montreal Alouettes. When neither worked out, he made the decision to return to TCU to finish his degree, joining the football coaching staff as a student assistant.
It’s a perfect fit. “He’s been through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, so he has a really calm demeanor. They know what he’s gone through and they listen to him. I’m excited that he’s here. I anticipate him being a big help for us,” co-Offensive Coordinator Sonny Cumbie told reporters during a media availability prior to the Frogs’ first practice of the year.
TCU Football welcomed back several former football players this fall, with the additions of former walk-on safety Michael Downing and former offensive lineman Garrett Altman to the graduate assistant program, and Hill former tight end Charlie Reid to the student assistant ranks. They join a coaching staff that is flush with guys who once played under Coach P, notably Zarnell Fitch, Tony Savino, and Jeremy Modkins, and guys who have been on the staff for a decade or more in Chad Glasgow, Jarrett Anderson, and Dan Sharp - who actually predates the Patterson era as he enters Year 18 as the head coach of the Horned Frogs.
It’s not by accident.
“It’s the circle of life. You know, I have a job because 21 years of these guys. The hard part for me is now we have so many guys that have come through TCU that have gotten into coaching. It’s fun seeing guys be successful, wanting to get into this profession, because you know it’s not an easy profession.”
Fitch, especially, has been vocal about his return, and what it means to come back home, working with the folks that grew him up. “One of the cool things that I’m getting to see now is the people that were around me as a player, the coaches kids were around me. And now, my kids are around them. And we have watched each others’ kids grow up. That’s one of the special things, the camaraderie of the staff.” He also has repeatedly mentioned what it means to go into a recruit’s house and sell them on his home, not just his paycheck.
TCU has leaned in hard to the philosophy of former players coming home; the hashtag #40Not4 is prevalent on both school-sanctioned social media accounts, as well as those of former players, current coaches, and family members of current football team members. Notably, it is also all over the timeline of TCU Football’s team mom and wife of Gary, Kelsey Patterson.
Kelsey is as big a part of the program as Gary, and a big reason he has stuck around the friendly confines of the Horned Frogs for so long - often crediting “marrying a Fort Worth girl” for his now 18-year-tenure as the TCU Football head coach.
But it’s not just the football program that is rife with former Frogs - Jill Kramer, the first ever TCU Volleyball recruit - returned to take over the reigns of that program in 2015, Dave Roditi was one of the best tennis players in the program history before becoming the head coach in 2010, and of course, TCU Basketball Hall of Famer Jamie Dixon famously returned home two years ago to revive the Horned Frogs hoops program, returning them to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in two decades. One of the first thing Dixon did was unite the past with the present, bringing basketball alumni home to play in a now annual-alumni game. That happened this past weekend, and was another example of how much it means to the current and former players to be united by that common bond.
Former TCU Athletic Director Chris Del Conte was responsible for all three of those hires, and his replacement - Jeremiah Donati - has prioritized keeping them.
20 years ago, TCU was not a destination job for athletics. Two decades later, it certainly is - not just in football, but across several sports on both the men’s and women’s side. In addition to the success of the programs, the facilities and funding TCU provides, the family feel draws people to the campus community in Fort Worth. From recruits, to coaching candidates, to those who come home like Kenny Hill, the #FrogFam is real. And that’s part of what makes TCU, and TCU Athletics, so special.