PULLMAN – It was like having a strobe light inside her pocket. For more than an hour, Kym Hilinski’s cell phone flashed on, flashed off, flashed on again, then flashed off again.
The text messages were flowing in from family members and friends in every corner of the country – from Massachusetts, where it was almost 3 in the morning, to nearby Coeur d’Alene. She heard from relatives in Petaluma, California, and some in Arizona. Attorneys that she’d worked with years and years ago made contact. The family gardener even reached out, desperate to know what was unfolding in Pullman.
With three quarterbacks in the family, Kym and Mark Hilinski have their routine down pat. Thankfully last weekend’s juggling act wasn’t what it once was, when all three sons – Kelly is the oldest, Tyler is the middle child and Ryan is the youngest – were playing at the same time. Kelly’s eligibility at Weber State ran out last year, Tyler is Luke Falk’s backup at Washington State and Ryan is a budding high school player at Orange Lutheran in California.
It takes only one plane ride now for the parents to see one of their sons play, and they swap weekends so one of the two can stay home with Ryan.
It was Kym’s turn last weekend. She’s indebted to her husband for a long time.
“I do owe him,” she laughed. “It’s just the way the cards fell, really.”
In the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game against Boise State, Tyler Hilinski relieved Falk, led the Cougars back from 21 points down and threw the winning touchdown pass in triple-overtime to lift WSU over the Broncos, 47-44. In a football game that felt more like a fairy tale, Tyler, a second-stringer, was the chief character and the prevailing hero. For the rest of the night, he was feted as such. Fans streamed onto the field and raised Hilinski on their shoulders.
Only Kym will be able to re-tell the first-person account at the family dinner table 10 years from now, but the rest of the Hilinski clan made sure to follow along. This was one they just couldn’t miss.
IN PULLMAN, Kym sat anxiously among a cluster of WSU parents.
The group goes by “CougFam” and the members don’t take their affiliation lightly. Tracy Cracraft, the mother of ex-WSU receiver River Cracraft, has “CougFam” emblazoned on her license plate and you’ll find hundreds of posts with the designation “#CougFam” when you search for it on Twitter.
So Kym didn’t have much anonymity when her son took a costly sack and threw an interception during his first meaningful drive of the season. But the lack of anonymity isn’t necessarily a bad thing and sitting with the “CougFam” can be reassuring when things aren’t going well on the field. Anywhere else in the stadium, Kym would’ve been surrounded by overzealous fans calling for her son to come out of the game.
“Honestly, they said, ‘It’s OK Kym, it’s all right, it’s fine,’” she said. “We’re happy if someone does well and if they don’t, then they just pick them up like their teammates do.”
Every parent in this group has seen their son make an error on the field and they’ve all heard the irrational backlash that comes with it.
On Saturday, Kim sat one row in front of Kim and Scott Pelluer, the parents of senior inside linebacker Peyton Pelluer. They had to be on cloud nine, too. Peyton returned an interception for a touchdown to cut the BSU lead to 31-24 late in the fourth quarter and tackled the Broncos 14 times.
Mark Hilinski will be in Pullman later this year, but on Saturday he was watching from home and frantically texted his wife when it looked like Tyler was warming up on the sideline.
“… I said I can’t see from here,” Kym said. “I’m in my 50’s, I really couldn’t see that far. The next thing we know, he’s coming in and I’m happy. I’m a little stressed. I tend to close my eyes sometimes when something happens and I just listen for the crowd, if it’s good or bad.”
Kym attended Ryan’s high school game the night before and logged just two hours of sleep before hopping on a 4 a.m. flight out of Los Angeles. So she was delirious when Tyler hit Jamal Morrow for the game’s decisive touchdown, some 19 hours after her jet took off in southern California.
“It’s a nice no-sleep issue to have, right?” Kym said.
She was one of the few-thousand fans on the field when the game ended and immediately rushed to find her son. Later on in the evening – rather, early the next morning – the two walked back to the Marriott where Kym was staying.
“We put our arms around each other, he’s my son, he’s still my baby. We’re just talking and a couple times he said, ‘Mom, did that just happen?’ And I said, ‘I know Ty, you just have to enjoy this moment because not many people get a win in three overtimes.’ ”
IN IRVINE, CALIFORNIA, Mark and Ryan Hilinski were causing such a ruckus that the neighbors felt compelled to come by and ensure everything was OK.
“We were literally losing our minds,” the youngest Hilinski recalled. “Probably 10 high-fives in a row, running in circles literally. We had our dog with us who was going nuts because she thought there was an earthquake. We’re screaming, neighbors are waking up. We had one neighbor knock on our door.”
Ryan and Mark had been watching from the living room of their Irvine home, but Ryan left for his bedroom at some point in the third quarter. His brother plays when the Cougars are up big or Falk is injured. Well, usually. Mark’s voice sounded throughout the house late in the third quarter, alerting Ryan that Tyler had come into the game.
“I get up, run out to the living room,” Ryan said. “It’s crazy, they’re playing Boise State, it’s a big-time game and it’s a big-time situation.”
A high school junior, Ryan is currently one of the hottest QB prospects in southern California with offers from Boston College, Northwestern and South Carolina, to name a few. He watches as a proud brother, but the gunslinger in him can’t help but analyze. And after Tyler’s initial drive, there was plenty to fix.
“He has a good couple first throws, then he makes a few bonehead mistakes that Tyler tries to make,” Ryan said. “He tries to be Superman, but he’s learning. … The biggest thing to me is he came back from those two mistakes and played probably an almost perfect game.”
The night before, Ryan had thrown for 500-plus yards in a career game for Orange Lutheran, which won 40-20. He added to his county-leading passing yards total and was named the CIF-Southern Section Player of the Week.
“I’m thinking to myself, Tyler just one-upped me,” Ryan said. “He always has to one-up me.”
IN OGDEN, UTAH, Kelly Hilinski was midway through a graveyard shift at McKay Dee Hospital.
Kelly spends long hours at the hospital – this particular shift started at 6 p.m. and ended at 6 a.m. – admitting patients into the emergency room and helping with trauma consolidations. It’s a good job to have for someone prepping for medical school.
Often times, hours will elapse where Kelly doesn’t admit a single patient. Other times, he’ll see 10 in a span of 30 minutes. He’s similar to a firefighter in that regard.
On Saturday when his manager left, Kelly was scurrying back and forth between his laptop and the ER’s check-in station to watch his brother play. (He hopes the manager doesn’t read this piece).
“Every time a patient came in and Tyler was in, I had to run away from the computer, to my demise, and help the patient. All I wanted to do is watch the game,” Kelly said.
And what do you know – as soon as Tyler entered, the hospital hit rush hour.
“Ten of them come in in a row,” Kelly said, “so I miss Tyler’s whole first drive. My co-workers are whispering to me what’s happening (in the game) as I’m talking to patients.”
But Kelly was back to his laptop by the time Tyler hit Morrow on a 22-yard swing pass in the third overtime to end the game. The two elder Hilinski brothers – “best friends” according to their father – spoke briefly afterward when Tyler FaceTimed Kelly from a raging WSU locker room.
Kelly Hilinski played at Columbia of the Ivy League, transferred to Riverside City College and landed at Weber State in 2015. His football career ended abruptly when he tore his labrum and rotator cuff during a tug-of-war battle during winter conditioning in Ogden.
“There never was a last play or a last throw (for me) … so it sucked,” Kelly said. “Whenever I talk to Tyler about it, I’m just like, ‘Hey, unless you want to work 36 hours a week and take 19 credits … make this last as long as you can and enjoy it.”