OPINION: Kylin Hill delivers the biggest carry he’ll ever have

Joel Coleman

There’s no telling how many more times Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill will tote the football over the course of his football-playing career. There’s one thing that’s nearly certain though. He’ll never have a more important carry in his life than the one he had this past week as he helped push the entire state of Mississippi over the goal line of change.

By now, you know. The Mississippi flag that has flown since 1894 – the one with the Confederate battle emblem on it that many view as racist – is coming down. All it needs, as of this writing, is the signature of Governor Tate Reeves, who has already said he’ll sign the bill. For years, the flag has been a source of contention in Mississippi. Even now, many of you reading this are celebrating the news of the retirement of the banner, while others are fighting mad. This isn’t a column to affirm or negate any of those opinions (though if you want mine, I’m on the side that desires a flag that my kids and their friends of all races can stand under for all the years of their lives and be proud of).

What this piece is, is one to praise the guts of a young man that had the gumption to share his own thoughts and issue an ultimatum…change the flag or else he wasn’t representing his home state on the football field anymore. While other efforts had advanced the cause down to the one-yard line in the past, Hill’s decree might forever be viewed as the leap into the end zone. It was a choice that put a lot of pressure on both the back of Hill and the backs of legislators. In the end, the figurative referee raised both arms. Touchdown Kylin Hill. Touchdown state of Mississippi.

I can almost hear some around the state grumbling now, criticizing Hill for choosing this moment in time to voice an opinion. Just a few days ago I had someone ask me how Hill could possibly have a problem with the flag now, given that he’s played under it for the entirety of his almost 22 years of life.

Well, to use Hill's sport to explain it, just a few short months ago, any effort to change the flag would’ve been like trying to bust through a defensive line without a single blocker in front. It’d have been pointless. This moment, right here and right now, the opportunity to change the flag was moving down the field and it needed a running back to polish off the drive. Enter the Columbus native with the tweet heard ‘round the Magnolia State.

“Either change the flag or I won’t be representing this state anymore,” Hill posted last Monday. “I meant that…I’m tired.”

Hill’s tweet started a movement. Over the next few days, churches, businesses, coaches and athletic directors from around Mississippi weighed in looking to get the flag changed. Even country music superstar and Mississippi native Faith Hill chimed in pushing for the flag to come down. Then, on Sunday, it was done. The votes by legislators were tallied and after 126 years, the banner that represented a past of hurt and hate to so many was retired.

In the process, Mississippi House of Representatives member Omeria Scott brought up the possibility of naming the bill to change the flag after Hill. The legislation was tabled without that happening, but the fact it was even brought up goes to show the impact Hill made on the situation.

Hill went out on a limb. Staring down the barrel of a professional football career, he made the gamble of possibly sitting out a senior season at MSU that could better his draft stock (and future pocketbook), all for a cause he saw as greater than any game he’d ever play.

I think it’s fair to question, would Hill have actually sat out if the fall had rolled around and the flag had stayed in place? He’s changed his mind before on matters of football. Remember, he had actually planned to enter this past April’s NFL Draft before reconsidering. Would he have had second thoughts again?

We’ll never know for sure. And why? Because as he did so many times in 2019 when he led the Southeastern Conference in rushing yardage, he made this carry count and he’s hopefully helped carry his home state to a better future for everyone, even the ones that disagreed with his stance.