KRISTIE RIEKEN, AP Sports Writer
COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) – Kenny Hill insists he wasn’t daunted taking over for Johnny Manziel as quarterback at Texas A&M.
He did, however, ask the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner and one of the most popular college players in recent history for some advice.
“He just said: ‘Go out there and be you. You don’t have to go out there and do anything crazy, just go out there and ball,'” Hill recalled.
So far he’s done just that, leading No. 6 Texas A&M to a perfect start with a chance to improve to 4-0 for the first time since 2006 with a win on Saturday at SMU.
The ultra-confident 19-year-old burst onto the scene by throwing for a school-record 511 yards in A&M’s season-opening win at South Carolina. He woke up the next day and realized his phone was broken and couldn’t be fixed, so he tracked the buzz on Twitter – suddenly he had gone from unknown backup to one of the hottest players in college football. Manziel and others were calling him Kenny Football, a sensible nod to Manziel’s “Johnny Football” nickname.
Except Hill didn’t like that. He wanted his own nom de plume.
He went through a list of names and decided “Kenny Trill” was his favorite. He was stunned by the media attention his new nickname elicited.
“That was nuts,” he said. “I get on Twitter and ‘Kenny Trill’ is trending on Twitter. I think it’s just unbelievable that it took off like that.”
Trill has long been used by Texas rapper Bun B, who calls himself Bun B Trill OG. Bun B tweeted about the nickname, saying he liked the idea of it but that Hill would have to do more to be “trill.” Hill was floored that perhaps the most famous rapper in Texas addressed his moniker.
“I think at some point I can earn that nickname,” he said, “To say that he likes the idea was pretty cool, too. Just to talk about my nickname, I think that’s unreal.”
If it were up to coach Kevin Sumlin, Hill would probably be called Kenny Chill.
Sumlin said he has seen his quarterback yawning in practice sometimes and simply shakes his head. But his serene personality helped him go on the road to South Carolina for his first start and not bat an eye in directing a surprising 52-28 rout of the Gamecocks.
“Him traveling last year and being a part of those different environments helped, but his demeanor certainly helps because he’s so calm,” Sumlin said. “You don’t want that out of your linebackers, but it probably helps him in a situation like that. (Offensive coordinator) Jake Spavital said he has zero nerves; that’s about right.”
His receivers love that about Hill and said it helps the team stay balanced no matter the situation.
“That’s why we knew he would do so well because he has a sleepy demeanor to him,” receiver Malcome Kennedy said. “A lot of guys will come out and look at him and wouldn’t expect a threat from him, but he’s just a natural baller. He has every trait of a quarterback you would want.”
Hill beat out heralded freshman Kyle Allen for the job in camp. He feels lucky he was given a second chance.
Like Manziel before his first season as a starter, Hill was arrested. According to an arrest report, he was picked up on a public intoxication charge in a College Station bar district in March and gave police a fake name. He was suspended, but Sumlin reinstated him before camp and said Hill and Allen would compete for the starting spot.
“After that situation I thought that would be it for me and I thought Kyle would just get the job,” Hill said. “But when he said that I knew I still had a chance and I just tried to make the most of my opportunities.”
Now that he has the job he isn’t planning on letting up. He knows that if he slips Allen could fill in seamlessly.
“It’s pushed me to play hard every single day,” Hill said. “I can’t make a lot of mistakes because he’s right there at my heels ready to take my spot. It keeps me motivated to keep working hard.”
It’s a work ethic he developed playing for Texas football powerhouse Southlake Carroll. He led the team to a state championship in the state’s largest classification as a junior in 2011 by passing for more than 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns and running for 1,400 yards and 24 more scores.
He said the pressure of performing at a school known for producing top-level college quarterbacks made his transition to starting at Texas A&M much easier.
“That helped me going into this just knowing I didn’t have to be anybody else,” he said. “Just knowing I could just go in and play as me and that would be enough. As of right now – how we’re playing, it’s enough right now.”
Hill has done a great job of easing the pain of Manziel’s early departure to the NFL and is off to a better start to his career. He is the only player in school history to throw for 1,000 yards (1,094) in the first three games of a season.
This week he’ll return to the area where he grew up when the Aggies face the Mustangs in their first road game of the season. It’s the first of two straight games in the Dallas-Fort Worth area with Texas A&M meeting Arkansas at the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium next week.
Hill, son of former major league pitcher Ken Hill, is looking forward to playing in front of scores of family and friends this week, but has avoided the harassment of people begging for tickets. Although he’s become one of the hottest names in college football, Hill was at the mercy of his parents when waiting for a replacement for his broken phone.
They finally brought him a new one, ending a more than two week span where the teenager was disconnected. His face lit up like a child on Christmas morning when talking about getting his new one.
“Oh my goodness,” he said, “my parents brought that phone to me and I was immediately on it and didn’t get off the whole night.”
There was one problem, though: He got a new number and didn’t have any of his contacts from the pre-Kenny Trill days. That might be a good thing.
“It’s kind of nice honestly because I don’t have a bunch of people blowing my phone up,” Hill said before flashing a huge grin.