Ryan Hilinski/courtesy
Orange Lutheran (Calif.) 3-star QB Ryan Hilinski has received an offer from UGA. He lost his brother to suicide earlier this year and is moving forward from that tragedy.

UGA target Ryan Hilinski shares remarkable outlook after brother’s suicide

Jeff Sentell

Want to attack every day with the latest Georgia football recruiting info? That’s what the Intel brings at least five days a week. The story for Tuesday offers an outlet to get to know 3-star quarterback Ryan Hilinski. That will be a name to know. No matter where he decides to play college football.

Ryan Hilinski recently visited Georgia. When he did, Kirby Smart wasn’t there. The coach was at an event for Nike-affiliated schools in Mexico.

The 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior ranks as the nation’s No. 12 pro-style QB prospect on the 247Sports composite. Smart likes to be there when the Bulldogs offer quarterbacks on a visit, but that offer still came from assistants James Coley and Jim Chaney.

Ryan Hilinski-UGA football-Georgia football-UGA recruiting
Orange Lutheran (Calif.) 3-star quarterback Ryan Hilinski rates as the nation’s No. 12 pro-style passer for 2019. (Ryan Hilinski/courtesy)

Hilinski called it a nice parting gift after what he dubbed one of his three best college visits so far. When he starts cutting down his list, look for the Bulldogs to be among the favorites. Location will not be a factor for Hilinski, who lives in Southern California. He’s the youngest child so look for his immediate family to follow him wherever he goes.

Hilinski, who once threw for 572 yards in a varsity game, had many positive things to say about UGA. Those will publish in time in DawgNation.

Our conversation strayed from unofficial visit 101 when the question came up if had a specific day in mind to make his commitment.

Some prospects these days are purposeful. Especially quarterbacks. Those are the guys Power 5 programs build classes around. But those prospects also want to lead their high school team on one more hunt for state rings with one less brain-warping distraction on their mind.

The worst days for Ryan Hilinski 

Ryan might have a date in mind. It could be a day to honor his older brother’s memory.

Tyler Hilinski’s name became known on Jan. 16 because of tragedy. Ryan’s older brother, Tyler was a promising redshirt sophomore quarterback at Washington State.

The immediate reports attributed his death to a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 21.

That event makes a commitment decision day seem quite trivial.

“I don’t have a specific day in mind,” said Hilinski, who is a big Tom Brady fan. “Maybe on May 26. That was Tyler’s birthday. I’m not sure if I want to decide that soon. That could be a possible date. That’s like a 50-50 shot. If I can decide by then, then great. But I probably most likely won’t decide by then. If I don’t know by then, I don’t have a specific date.”

When Hilinski mentions that target date was his older brother’s birthday, it hits home. It has to.

“If I knew by then where I wanted to go, then I would definitely do it then on that date,” he said.

Tyler is close to his heart every time he shares the news of a college offer.

Tyler always was his first call when he picked up an offer. He’s now the first person he mentions in every tweet regarding a new offer.

“It is kind of a tribute to him now,” Ryan Hilinski said. “ … I’m going to go work. I’m going to do everything in my power to fulfill that promise we made of going to the league when we were younger.

“I love him. I wish he was here. But I know he’s in a better place and he’s not suffering anymore so I’m not complaining.”

He wore No. 4 last year but will switch numbers to honor his brother.

“I’m probably going to wear No. 3 this year and probably wherever I go to college,” he said. “I’ve already talked to the college coaches about that, too.”

Tyler Hilinski made his first start for the Cougars in their bowl game less than a month before his death. Tyler was expected to contend for the starting position in 2018.

Despite all those things to live for, he likely was suffering.

He hid that from everyone. Even his brother.

“I could have never seen this coming,” Ryan Hilinski said. “Absolutely not. There were no signs.”

The Hilinskis will honor Tyler’s memory

The Seattle Times published a half-page ad on Monday. It was a letter from the Hilinskis to his Washington State family.

This passage stands out:

I wish I could tell you what happened. The reality is we simply don’t know. He didn’t quit. He didn’t give up on you. For some reason, he had no choice but to leave us. Don’t waste a second thinking he was weak. People leave for many reasons. We will spend a lifetime trying to understand this. Don’t be mad or angry; he didn’t do this to you or to us. He was not well in a way not one of us knew. He fought bravely. … but ultimately, he lost alone. AS we continue to work through this, if we find more information that would be helpful to anyone else, we will share that with you.

If you pray, please save your most sincere prayers for Tyler and for our family. We need them all. We also ask that you please don’t forget him. Remember the best of him and how he wanted to please everyone. Forgive him for his mistakes, and if you do anything, send your love and best wishes to anyone that needs you to do that. Reconnect with someone who needs you, or who you need or love. Remember to take care of each other.

Hilinski, the high school senior, will face the issue in his own way. The way he speaks, it sounds as if he might have written that letter.

He feels led to carry this issue along in his 10.5-inch hands and on those 220-pound shoulders.

The “L3G3ND” script he will place upon his wristbands is a good place to start. It likely will show up as eye black and on his backplate. He will wear that script until he stops playing.

That’s for the big brother who made sure he didn’t quit football when offseason workouts started getting tough when he was 10.

“Then I am going to write a special bible verse that we kept just between ourselves on my wrist,” Hilinski said.

He now views his older brother as a hero.

“I think with Tyler and him doing what he did, I know it is terrible to think about,” Ryan Hilinski said. “But he saved so many lives by taking his own life. Which is the crazy part to think about.

“Do you know how many people would call a [hotline] after seeing that and say, ‘I need help’?”

Hilinski meets with grief counselors to handle the weight of all this. He’s especially grateful to everyone who reaches out to tell him the loss of his brother’s life saved theirs.

“Family members have reached out to other family members and say, ‘Hey I need help and please help me’ and he probably saved so many lives,” Ryan Hilinski said. “I’m telling you that right now, which is the crazy part. I’ve had people reach out to me over Twitter and Instagram and say, ‘Hey, your brother saved my life,’ and I know it is sad to think about but I am going to try and do everything in my power to help save as many lives as I can.”

‘Big Bo’ has a big platform in mind

Hilinski can be an incredible spokesperson for an issue that does not receive the coverage it should.

“I try to be a great person because I come from a great family,” he said. “The thing there is to work on being a great kid. I would rather be a great kid than be a great ballplayer. That has to come first.”

He kind of makes everyone root for him. Well, far more than kind of.

That’s not because this life owes him some payback karma. It is more like he needs to achieve the status that comes with throwing a football so very well.

It feels more like rooting for the man he wants to be.

“Whatever platform I can get on then I want to get on the highest of the high,” Hilinski said. “I want to help people with this depression and the sickness that is growing inside people. I think I can do that with the way I speak and the platform that I can get on.”

He’s known as Big Bo.

“That’s a family thing,” Ryan Hilinski said. “We call everybody ‘Big’ in our family. My dad is ‘Big’ and Tyler was ‘Big T.’ Kelly [his older brother] is ‘Big Kell’ for us. We don’t call my momma ‘Big Momma’ because she won’t let us. We just call her Momma.”

Hilinski’s arm was pretty sore the day he threw for those 572 yards. But one of his coaches had to tell him about that. He laughs because he can’t even throw for that many yards playing Madden video games.

“I was like, ‘OK, yeah that is cool and we got a win though’ with that,” Hilinski said. “I’m more of a guy that is focused on a win rather than individual stats because I know if we get a win then all that other stuff individually will come with it.”

He wants to study psychology in college. That’s partially because of a class he took last year. It’s also because of Ty.

“With all these recent events I think I want to understand people better,” he said. “You know?”

The best day ahead for Ryan Hilinski

Ryan credits his middle-school priest, Father Charles, for helping him wade through all the anger, regrets, sadness and worries.

“He’s probably the best guy you will ever meet in your life,” he said. “I talked to him and we were just talking. We talked about God. We talked about bible verses and things that God would look out for here. So, then I was like, ‘Why am I worrying here’ because [Ty] was in God’s hands. Ever since then, I have thought about it and whenever I get sad about it I will be like, ‘God’s got him’ and we’re doing all right.”

His faith has been there. His rod and his staff.

“I would be completely lost without my faith,” he said. “… The thing I know is that God is always with you and God’s got your loved ones. You shouldn’t worry about that. Sooner or later we are all going to be with him in his kingdom. Nobody is going to worry. You’ll see your loved ones again. It is not goodbye forever. It is only a goodbye for a temporary time. I’ll see my brother again. I promise you.”

Hilinski saw Athens on a college trip around the Southeast. He visited Duke, Ole Miss, Georgia and South Carolina. South Carolina coach Will Muschamp walked with him down Main Street in Columbia.  Gamecocks starting quarterback Jake Bentley also welcomed him.

It sounds as if the Bulldogs will get an official visit when he starts taking those in the spring.

And after that, he’ll return the emphasis on family and causes dear to them, such as ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. His grandmother suffered from ALS.

“My nana, that would be my mom’s [mother], was diagnosed with ALS and she passed away when I was about 7 years old,” he said. “My oldest brother, Kelly, and I created these bands called ‘Gehrig’s Grit Never Quit’ to pride ourselves in helping the ALS foundation. Kelly has been working with them since he was in high school.”

Ryan, 17, has spoken at a few events with his 23-year-old brother.

When he was about 9 years old, their family traveled to Hawaii. They made a special trip to a lighthouse in Kauai.

“That’s where we threw my nana’s ashes out into the water out there,” Hilinski said. “We go there yearly and we throw a lei out in her honor.”

The family will make a similar trip to honor Tyler. Ryan is ready for it.

“I’m telling you my best day is coming up,” Hilinski said. “It is when we are going to go to Hawaii again and spread Tyler’s ashes out at the same lighthouse. We’ll throw a lei for him. That will be my life’s best day. By far.”

Miss any Intel? The DawgNation recruiting archive will get you up to speed just as fast as former Georgia All-America linebacker Roquan Smith found the ball after the snap.

More on Ryan Hilinski

Want to see what a 70-percent passer looks like against some of the big schools in California? Check out some of his highlights against Chaminade, Mater Dei, Mission Viejo and St. John Bosco from his 2017 season that featured 3,749 passing yards and 33 touchdowns with just 6 interceptions.