Tyreek Hill

"Ty-reek! Ty-reek! Ty-reek! Ty-reek!"

Just before he returned a second-quarter punt for a touchdown against the rival Raiders on Thursday Night Football, some of the fans at Arrowhead Stadium chanted his name.

"I definitely heard it. It was crazy," Tyreek Hill said. "They really hyped us up."

While many of the Chiefs faithful cheer for the electrifying returner, others remain conflicted.

Though the speedy 185-pound rookie has 10 touchdowns this season and 1,547 all-purpose yards, he has a dark past.

Oklahoma State kicked him off its football team after he was arrested in 2014, and he then pled guilty in 2015 to choking and punching his girlfriend who was eight weeks pregnant. The woman, who had to go to the emergency room, told police that Hill hit her in the face and stomach, put hands around her neck and threw her around "like a ragdoll."

Sam Mellinger, a sports columnist for The Kansas City Star, has received many tweets, emails and comments regarding Hill, and it's been a mixed bag.

Tyreek Hill

"There's some people who don't give even a tiny crumb of a damn about anything that he did as long as he's a good football player," Mellinger said. "There's some people who don't give a tiny crumb of a damn what he does on the football field because of what he pled guilty to, and I think there's some other people who like the Chiefs, are disgusted by what he pled guilty to and are trying to figure that out."

When the Chiefs selected Hill in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, Mellinger excoriated the selection -- not just for Hill's past but for the setting into which he was drafted.

Four years ago the franchise endured a horrific incident when linebacker Jovan Belcher shot himself in front of the Arrowhead Stadium training facility after murdering his girlfriend and mother of his daughter.

Since then the Chiefs cleaned house with their front office and coaching staff, bringing in general manager John Dorsey and head coach Andy Reid who preach character and talk about the locker-room culture instilled by stand-up guys like Alex Smith, Eric Berry and Derrick Johnson.

Are the Chiefs frauds? Or do they just believe in reclamation projects?

It's probably a combination of both.

Reid brought Michael Vick to Philadelphia, after the quarterback's dogfighting scandal and resulting imprisonment. He's also endured his oldest son's death from a heroin overdose. The year before selecting Hill, Kansas City drafted Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters after he was kicked off the University of Washington team.

Tyreek Hill

"Andy Reid has a long history of wanting to give second chances," Mellinger said.

As part of his second chance, Hill undergoes counseling. He described it as therapy sessions, which allow him to get "things off my chest."

"I make sure I do those things in order for me to be a better person," Hill said. "I'm really dedicated and I'm going to stick to it so I can be a better man and a better citizen for this community and a better father to my son."

Reid has continually praised Hill, noting that he's attended all of his sessions.

"He's handled himself in a good way. There haven't been any issues," Reid said. "He does everything that he's supposed to do … He's been a good citizen."

Mellinger emphasizes that you cannot know a player's character just through locker-room interviews, but he's been impressed by Hill. Though a bit a shy in large groups, Hill has come across as eager and earnest.

"He's been terrific," Mellinger said. "He hasn't been good; he's been great."

And he's been even better on the field.


Hill fielded the kick on the left side of the 14-yard-line. Veering to the right, he sprinted past the Broncos. By the time he reached Denver's 30-yard-line, only he and De'Anthony Thomas were in the picture, something the speedy Chiefs teammates punctuated with a high-five as they crossed into the end zone.

"It was a great moment to actually do that on Sunday Night Football," Hill said. "We've been working on that in practice. Y'all aren't there to see it, but we clown at practice."

Tyreek Hill

It was a signature moment in one of the season's better games, and it harkened back to the days of Torry Holt and Az-Zahir Hakim of the Rams' Greatest Show On Turf outrunning the Broncos on Monday Night Football.

As he displayed on that return, what separates Hill is his speed. One of the fastest guys in the NFL, he ran a 4.25 in the 40 during his Pro Day in March.

Hill said he first became aware of his speed when he was 6. The Georgia native was playing with his cousins on a dirt road when some wild dogs appeared. He outran everyone and was the first to reach sanctuary back at the house.

Then as a high school senior in 2012 he ran the 200-meter dash in 20.14 seconds, a mark that would've earned sixth place in that year's Olympics.

"I don't know if I've seen anyone like him," said Smith, the Chiefs quarterback.

More than just speed, Hill has a strong lower body, a low center of gravity and great balance.

Tyreek Hill, De'Anthony Thomas

And he has a versatile skill set. Hill is just the ninth player since 1960 to have touchdowns via a punt return, kick return, pass reception and rush in a single season.

He has myriad responsibilities. He's a dangerous punt and kickoff returner. He also takes handoffs in the backfield, including a 68-yard touchdown run in Week 15 against the Titans. And with the injury to Jeremy Maclin, he emerged as one of Smith's favorite receiving targets in an offense that is notoriously difficult for rookie wideouts to master.

"We're moving him all over the place," Reid said. "We've thrown a lot at him, and he's handled it. His aptitude is up there. He's a smart kid … he picks things up easily."

With first place in the AFC West on the line in the December game against Oakland, Hill accounted for Kansas City's first score. The Raiders were playing with two high safeties, and Hill beat cornerback David Amerson for a 36-yard touchdown.

"Tyreek ran right by him," Smith said.


Mellinger calls it a "sliding scale of morality."

There's a reason why the Chiefs drafted a game-changing talent who beat up his girlfriend, and running back Ray Rice, the player most identified with domestic violence, can't get a job. Hill is 22 and runs a 4.25; Rice will turn 30 in January and averaged 3.1 yards per carry during his last NFL season.

"If Tyreek Hill ran a 4.5," Mellinger said, "I don't think he'd be in the league."

Tyreek Hill

Kansas City figured Hill would flourish under special teams coordinator Dave Toub. One of the game's best coaches, he helped Devin Hester become a record-breaking returner with the Bears.

But Hill has exceeded their expectations with his all-around play, including as a receiver and runner.

And to his credit, he has been a good teammate. By serving his probation, paying his fines and going to anger management courses, he is reportedly meeting his legal obligations.

Mellinger, though, maintains his initial stance.

"The Chiefs were hypocritical," he said. "I still think that the franchise of Jovan Belcher that promotes itself to be above this kind of thing should not be taking a guy who a year ago pleaded guilty to choking and punching a pregnant woman."

Chiefs fans are left to reconcile Hill's off-the-field issues with his dazzling play on it.

Some observers responded notably during the Dec. 8 victory in which he returned a 78-yard punt for a touchdown.

"I have never seen a stadium chanting a name like that, and then he houses it," Smith said. "It gave me chills on the sideline."

Follow Jeff Fedotin on Twitter @JFedotin.