What new Northwestern Wildcats quarterback Ryan Hilinski is involved with off the field truly transcends football. The South Carolina transfer lost his brother, former Washington State QB Tyler Hilinski, to suicide in early 2018.
Ryan and the rest of the Hilinski family honors his memory by running and promoting Hilinski’s Hope, a non-profit foundation focused on awareness for mental health issues. Ryan Hilinski met the Northwestern media corps for a spring ball Zoom call, and when asked to talk about himself, Hilinski’s Hope was the main topic of conversation.
“I am a family person first,” he said (transcript Inside NU). “Hilinski’s Hope is a nonprofit organization that my parents and my older brother Kelly run that we started after my older brother Tyler passed away from suicide back in 2018. Mental health is an extremely important thing to me.
“I know, upon stepping on campus, a couple teammates already asked about Hilinski’s Hope, so I’ve been able to connect with a couple guys already on the team. And if you want anyone to know anything about me, it’s that I’m a person lover. I love making people happy. If that’s with wins, I’m gonna do that. If thats with straight A’s, I’m gonna do that. I love to complete.”
“I love to win. I’m a people pleaser. And I’m a family first guy.”
Tyler died by an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound via a teammate’s .223 caliber rifle. On June 26, 2018, doctors revealed that Hilinski was found to have Stage 1 chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which caused the 21-year-old to have the ‘brain of a 65-year-old.” He was never officially diagnosed with having suffered a concussion at any point of his football career.
On their website, Hilinski’s Hope states their mission is “to educate, advocate, and eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness, while funding programs that provide student-athletes with the tools and resources that support their mental health and wellness.”
Asked to elaborate more on the organization and their goals, Hilinski said:
“My older brother Tyler passed away January 16, 2018 by suicide, and we didn’t know he was suffering. Tyler was one of the smartest kids you’ll ever know, one of the happiest kids. He always had a smile on his ace.
“We actually played Fortnite the night before, and he texted me after, “Yo, we gotta play Fortnite again.” And that was that last text I got from him. And our family just decided that we don’t want any other family to go through this trouble. We don’t want any other student-athlete to have to suffer in silence.
“We want to erase the stigma of mental health, of “you’re weak if you talk about mental health.” No, you are the strongest person that anybody could ever meet if you can talk about it, because it takes a lot of guts to talk about it. It takes a lot of courage to go out, in this world today that we live in, to talk about your mental health, that you’re struggling, that you need some help.
“In this world, you can’t go through it alone, you need people on your left and your right. Football is a great analogy for it. You can’t run a successful play with ten guys. Such is life. You can’t go through life, you need your friends, your family, your peers, to help you when you’re struggling, to lift you up and bear that cross for you.
“I think that’s the best way to talk about Hilinski’s Hope. I’m extremely grateful that I have the two best parents in the world that have been nothing but helpful since he passed away. They’re continuing to push Hilinski’s Hope’s message, they are doing Zoom calls left and right with people, trying to do in-persons whenever they can.
“And I have got the best big brother that’s still here, Kelly Hilinski, who has worked his butt off. I get to play Call of Duty with him every day, even though he’s not here. I get to talk to him over the microphone, and we just talk about practice and stuff.
“Hilinski’s Hope is still going, and it will go on forever because we don’t want Tyler’s name to die twice.”
Ryan Hilinski was a consensus four star recruit, the #2 rated pro style QB in his class. He started 11 games his freshman year at South Carolina, completing 58.1 percent of his passes, tossing 11 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Last September he lost his starting gig to Colin Hill and entered the transfer portal after the season.
He will probably be the QB1 when coach Pat Fitzgerald names it this fall. But really, after all he’s been through with the loss of his brother, and all the larger issues that surround Tyler’s suicide, talking about his stats, depth charts, recruiting rankings, all that stuff just seems small by comparison.
Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” has regularly appeared in WGN, Sports Illustrated, Chicago Tribune and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.Follow paulmbanks