The Tragic Death of Washington State QB Tyler Hilinski Shook College Football

Tyler Hilinski appeared to be the next college quarterback who Mike Leach would mold into an NFL-caliber arm.

Hilinski impressed in 2017 at Washington State and had a bright future ahead of him, both on and off the field. 

Unfortunately, the college football world had to mourn Hilinski instead of celebrating everything that was to come. Hilinski’s tragic death in January 2018 shook the sports landscape.

Tyler Hilinski quarterbacked at Washington State

Originally from Claremont, Calif., Tyler Hilinski signed with Mike Leach and the Washington State Cougars out of high school. 

After redshirting in 2015, Hilinski completed 24 of his 30 passes in backup duty for two touchdowns and an interception in 2016. Hilinski saw increased action in 2017 when he often replaced starting quarterback Luke Falk. 

Hilinski completed 72.6% of his passes for 1,176 yards, seven touchdowns, and seven interceptions in eight games. In his first start, a 2017 Holiday Bowl showdown with Michigan State, Hilinski completed 39 of his 50 passes for two touchdowns and an interception. 

Washington State lost 42-17.

Tyler Hilinski tragically died in January 2018

With Luke Falk headed to the NFL, many expected Tyler Hilinski would start for the Cougars in 2018.

That day never came. Hilinski died by suicide in January 2018, just weeks after Washington State’s season ended.

According to Sports Illustrated, the Mayo Clinic’s findings discovered Hilinski had Stage 1 chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE — a form of brain damage often brought about by concussions and head trauma. 

SI reported Hilinski suffered a possible concussion during practice in his freshman season. 

In a conference call after Hilinski’s death, Washington State head coach Mike Leach eulogized the quarterback and fondly remembered his attitude.

“Tyler was always a very optimistic guy. Tyler was one of those guys who would always come bouncing in the room. He would make everybody happy and brought an energy to rooms and groups of people and huddles and all of that.”

Hilinski was 21 when he died.

Hilinski’s death shook football and raised suicide awareness


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Tyler Hilinski’s death had a massive impact on the college football landscape, especially at Washington State.

Some results were immediate. Washington State had to postpone its press conference to introduce new athletic director Pat Chun; the press conference was set for the day after Hilinski died.

The Hilinski family founded Hilinski’s Hope, a non-profit organization which focuses on mental health awareness and education. 

According to the organization’s official website, “H3H helps colleges and universities save lives, eliminate stigma, and scale mental wellness programs for student-athletes. H3H does this by sharing Tyler’s story, connecting students with mental health resources, and assisting universities to institutionalize best practices.” 

Some college football games on Oct. 3 and Oct. 10, 2020, will reference #3Day, which is designed on “eliminating stigma and increasing mental health resources on universities and colleges.” Hilinski wore No. 3 when he played.

The #3Day movement occurs concurrently with Mental Illness Awareness Week, which runs from Oct. 4-10.

Tyler’s brother, Ryan, is a quarterback at South Carolina. Ryan Hilinski completed 58.1% of his passes for 2,357 yards, 11 touchdowns, and five interceptions last season. 

The younger Hilinski is now backing up Collin Hill for the Gamecocks. Ryan wears No. 3 in his brother’s honor.

How to get help: In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or text HOME to 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor at the free Crisis Text Line.