As he made his decision of whether he should enter the 2019 NFL draft or stay at Ohio State for his fifth-year senior season, K.J. Hill had plenty of people he could turn to for guidance.
Three of his fellow Ohio State wide receivers – Parris Campbell, Johnnie Dixon and Terry McLaurin – had to make the same decision one year earlier. All of them gave consideration to entering the 2018 NFL draft before deciding to return to the Buckeyes for their fifth-year senior seasons.
Like his teammate Damon Arnette, Hill also consulted with former Ohio State wide receiver and Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinee Cris Carter before making his decision.
Campbell, Dixon and McLaurin all had their best seasons of their respective careers after individually deciding to stay at Ohio State for one final year, so they could certainly draw from their own experiences to sell Hill on the benefits of staying. That said, Hill has already been highly productive the past two seasons – catching 68 passes for 865 yards for six touchdowns in 2018 after catching 56 passes for 549 yards and three touchdowns in 2017 – so they recognized that he was in a different spot than they were in last year.
“They said my decision here was way tougher than theirs,” Hill recalled of his conversations with last year’s senior receivers. “So I talked to them about it, and they wished me the best of luck.”
Carter, on the other hand, knows that a player can be successful in the NFL even if he leaves Ohio State earlier than he should. He became one of the NFL’s best receivers ever, ranking fourth in league history in receiving touchdowns and sixth in receptions, after being ruled ineligible for his senior season at Ohio State and entering the 1987 supplemental draft. Yet it was Carter, perhaps more than anyone else, who sold Hill on the idea that he would be more likely to regret leaving early than he would staying for one more year.
“I talked to him for a long time on the phone when I was back home,” Hill said. “We was just talking a little bit about how it’s just once-in-a-lifetime. You’re here at Ohio State, and once you leave, you’re going to miss it.”
Ultimately, Hill decided to heed Carter’s advice and follow the lead of last year’s trio of senior receivers, announcing January 8 that he would stay for his senior season and put the NFL on hold for one more year.
“I just wanted to make the best decision as possible, and I felt like staying was the best one,” Hill said Saturday while attending the Touchdown Club of Columbus banquet. “I wanted to leave with no regrets. I wanted to put everything I could into my overall career, and here at Ohio State. So I stayed, so I wouldn’t have no regrets.”
While Hill was as clutch and consistent as any member of Ohio State’s receiving corps for the past two seasons, he was overshadowed as a leader by Campbell, McLaurin and Dixon, who were all captains in 2018 (while Campbell and McLaurin were already captains in 2017) and were all revered as perhaps the three most prominent leaders on last year’s team.
As a fifth-year senior himself now, though, Hill will truly have the chance to be a leader not only for his position group but the entire team in 2019, along with fellow senior wide receivers Austin Mack, Binjimen Victor and C.J. Saunders.
“That was one of the biggest things. I wanted to be a leader,” Hill said regarding his decision to stay in school. “Being a senior in the room, it means a lot now. I got to lead like Parris, Johnnie and Terry did. So I know I have great examples in front of me. So I’m going to try to fill those shoes like they did.”
“I wanted to put everything I could into my overall career, and here at Ohio State. So I stayed, so I wouldn’t have no regrets.”– K.J. Hill on his decision to stay at Ohio State for one more year
While Campbell, Dixon and McLaurin are now pursuing their professional football careers and won’t be in Columbus this year, Hill knows he will still have their support from afar as he goes through his senior season.
“They’re always calling me,” Hill said. “They’re probably going to call me in a minute.”
Hill likely would have been selected in the middle rounds of the 2019 NFL draft if he had declared, but he’ll have the chance to put even bigger numbers this upcoming season now that Campbell, McLaurin and Dixon are gone. A big year as the Buckeyes’ go-to receiver could elevate his stock for the 2020 NFL draft, and it could also put him in Ohio State’s school record books; with 142 career receptions, Hill is just 50 catches away from breaking David Boston’s career record of 191.
The other reason why Hill came back, as he said in his announcement last month, is he wants to have one more shot at winning college football’s top prize – a feat Ohio State last accomplished one season before Hill arrived on campus.
“I wanted to come back and try to win a national championship,” Hill said.
Hill won’t be catching passes from Dwayne Haskins again this year, as Haskins did make the decision to leave Ohio State early for the 2019 NFL draft, but he will have the opportunity to catch passes from highly touted Georgia transfer Justin Fields, the frontrunner to be the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback this season after receiving a waiver for immediate eligibility from the NCAA on Friday.
Hill said he and the rest of his teammates are excited about that news and their potential as a team this season, but they know they have a long way to go in order to achieve their goals.
“That’s a big thing,” Hill said of Fields receiving his waiver for immediate eligibility. “That’s the person who’s going to get me the ball. But that was big-time news, and now we just got to get to work.”