Between classes, team meetings, workouts and fall camp, life for Hilinski is charged with a myriad of experiences. Arriving early for a meeting with Leach recently, Hilinski entered the room only to discover his coach was on the phone. Or was he?
“We’re going into meetings the other day and (coach Leach is) sitting on his phone," said Hilinski. "I’m the first one to get in there and he’s talking in some (other) language. I'm thinking, ‘What the heck is he doing?’ He’s learning Spanish on his phone."
Leach has railed in the past about how much young people use cell phones at the expense of conversing with one another, but he seems to be warming up a little to technology.
"He’s got this app that’s teaching him how to speak Spanish," said Hilinski. "He’s trying to get the whole accent down, too. I’m like, coach come on. I sound better than that. It’s pretty cool that he just does that. He’s just one of the most interesting guys and he’s the best coach I know. He knows all the stuff.”
When Leach isn’t studying Spanish or carrying out the duties of the head coach for Washington State, he also coaches Cougar quarterbacks.
“I have quarterback meetings with coach Leach every day. (In practice) we do our individual drills like footwork with (outside receivers coach Dave) Nichol and (running backs coach Jim) Mastro and (o-line coach Clay) McGuire help me with the running game a lot (but) passing game and all the reads, that's primarily with coach Leach.”
As a second-year freshman, Hilinski is doing everything he can to be ready if called upon to take the reins of the WSU offensive attack. There’s a huge difference between using a redshirt year to acclimate to college ball vs. becoming the next man up.
“It’s really a step up from last year," said Hilinski. "I was running the scout team and didn’t get a whole lot of (team) reps with Luke (Falk) and Peyton (Bender). I have to take more control of the offense. You have to be ready mentally for the game. You have to know your reads and know all the stuff to be ready to play.”
The number of areas developing players work on constitutes a very long list. Topping Hilinski's list of areas to improve are three specific things:
“No. 1, going through my reads...my progressions... Knowing my reads and making good decisions. No. 2, the tempo of the offense. I think it starts with the O-line but I can kind of drive that. Bringing up the tempo of the O-line and the offense, that generates playmaking ability. No. 3, getting the ball out of my hand and to the playmaker.”
In more general terms, he describes how he sees his role and the work required to quarterback the Cougs.
“I think the overall control of the offense (is key)," said Hilinski. "Back in spring, I was a little bit timid, a little bit unsure of myself. But I’ve put on 15 pounds over the summer and got up to 206. I’m in the film room a little bit more, started staying after. Making sure I was the first guy in the weight room and last guy out. I’m trying to mimic what Luke has been doing and follow his footsteps -- just trying to be the leader. The offense goes around the QB and he kind of drives that thing. They all look to you to be the leader. That’s an area where I’ve improved most.”
When it comes to weight training, Hilinski has fully embraced that component of preparation. What does he like about pumping iron?
“Obviously, I love my bench days when we’re hitting upper body. I’m a big power clean guy. The power clean helps increase overall poundage. Not only does it build strength and mass, it also helps develop explosive hip movement,” said Hilinski.
Quarterbacks aren’t typically associated with lifting which begs the question: How does he rank alongside his Cougar teammates.
“You’d have to ask coach (Jason) Loscalzo or coach (Tyson) Brown, but I like to think I have one of the better techniques on the team when it comes to power clean. I love lifting and getting bigger and stronger. I’m just trying to be the best player I can be," said Hilinski.
Surprisingly, when asked what weight he does power clean reps at, Hilinski became reserved. Well, as reserved as a Pac-12 quarterback gets.
“I don’t want to blow you away with how much weight I’m doing so I won’t give you that number but I’ll let your imagination take you there,” quipped Hilinski.
Looking back at the initial part of fall camp down in Lewiston, Hilinski had a significant takeaway from that first stage of Cougar football.
“Competition. We had a lot of days where offense and defense were battling. I’ve learned a lot from Luke (Falk). Competing and taking it one play-at-a-time. Whether you have a bad play or a touchdown the play before, you’ve got to be the same guy on the next play going with a new mindset ready to strike against the defense,” said Hilinski.
The ability to flush the previous play often determines how players perform on the next snap. Too often, the matter of moving on to the next play is easier said than done.
“When you throw a pick you try to rub it off as fast as you can," said Hilinski. "It’s still going to get at you, but I like to come back after those tough plays and match them with bigger plays. I’m a pretty level headed guy. I don’t get too up or too down. That’s a thing that coaches talk about. You’ve got to stay within yourself. Don’t get distracted and not let the little things get to you.”
Pullman is a place where distractions are minimized. Coming from Upland, Calif., just outside of the second largest city in the country in Los Angeles, Hilinski’s new home last year was quite a change of scenery.
“I came up here with my dad the first time when I first committed," said Hilinski. "We flew into Spokane and made that drive (down). Pullman is pretty isolated. I didn’t know that until coming up here. Talking to my mom about (that), it’s kind of like a Disneyland. You kind of go off and it’s like a little resort. It’s definitely different. It’s isolated, but that’s what makes it so special up here.”
The adjustment from life and growing up in a metropolitan area seems to suit him just fine.
“You just really fall in love with a college town. It’s the people that make this place real special,” said Hilinski.
Hilinski’s roommate for the Lewiston portion of fall camp was another student-athlete from Upland High -- true freshman wide receiver Grant Porter.
“I’ve known Grant for awhile now," said Hilinski. "I knew him back when we played Pop Warner (together) so it was like hanging out with my old buddy again. We were good friends in high school. Then in Lewiston we got real close again. I felt like I was helping him with the offense and understanding routes and concepts. It was a lot of fun rooming together.”
With Washington State’s season opening game on Sept. 3 vs. Eastern Washington State looming on the horizon, Hilinski unabashedly shared his expectations for Cougar football in 2016.
“I’m looking forward to this team having a great season," said Hilinski. "Taking it game by game. I think the last two years we had a couple of early losses where maybe we overlooked some teams by looking on to the next game. Our coaches really preach being the best at doing your job. Take it week-by-week and not looking too far ahead. I think that’s the No. 1 goal for us, to just take it week-by-week and prepare the best we can day in and day out. That’s what I’m looking forward to.
"Be the best practice player that I can be. Let my teammates and coaches know that when I’m called on I’m going to be more than ready and they can trust in me."
Hilinski also said while last year's opener may have been 352 days ago, it's remained front and center for him and his teammates.
“We’ve talked about Portland State every day and not letting that happen again, not taking anything for granted. You can be sure there won’t be any (teams) overlooked this season. All of our guys are dialed in. It’s the most focused I’ve seen this team. It’s the (closest) team I’ve been a part of.”