Washington State Quarterback Takes His Own Life at 21

Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski was found dead on Jan. 16 as a result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Two teammates discovered the body in Hilinski’s off-campus apartment after he had not shown up for practice, something totally out of character for the dependable Hilinski.

He was 21 years old.

“Tyler was one of those guys that would always come bouncing in the room and make everyone happy and just brought an energy to rooms and groups of people and huddles and all that,” head coach Mike Leach said. “Tyler always had a lot of energy, it felt like, around him.”

Leach also described Hilinski as an “optimistic guy” with no obvious signs of depression or suicidal tendencies.

“Everyone’s got some dark space that they work through I’m sure, but nobody really saw anything like that,” Leach said. “He didn’t have signs of depression, he didn’t have periods where he was moping around or anything like that.”

Hilinski’s suicide blindsided just about everyone who knew him—family, friends and his Cougar teammates.

“God, let Tyler find peace. Everyone please pray for the Hilinski family tonight. Heaven received a very special person,” WSU quarterback John Bledsoe tweeted after receiving the news.

The third-year sophomore would have assumed the 2018 starting quarterback position for the Cougars. Earlier this season, he threw three touchdown passes, including the game-winner in triple overtime after relieving an injured Luke Falk in Washington State’s 47-44 win over Boise State. He later led his team in the Holiday Bowl loss to Michigan State, completing 130 of 179 passes for 1,176 yards and seven touchdowns, with seven interceptions. Leach even disclosed that his last conversation with the California native revolved around next years team.

Tyler was one of those guys that would always come bouncing in the room and make everyone happy and just brought an energy to rooms and groups of people and huddles and all that”

— Head Coach Mike Leach

“Just talked about moving forward and the offseason,” Leach said. “Building and developing for the next year.”

Unfortunately, Hilinski will never be able to build or develop. While his teammates continue to come to terms with his death, the last thing on their mind is the game Hilinski loved so much. Leach has stated that workouts will resume next week, but will not be mandatory, as many players mourn their quarterback.

With many questions left unanswered, mourners cannot help but wonder “Why?” While he did leave a suicide note, investigators have left the letter unpublished in order to respect the Hilinski family’s privacy, who are just as shocked as the rest of the world. Ryan Hilinski, Tyler’s younger brother, issued two tweets, including “Please keep my family in your prayers tonight.” Later, he posted a heart-wrenching goodbye to his elder brother.

“Tyler, brother, I love you. You take care of business up there and I’ll handle it all down here. See you when I see you big bro! #TylerStrong.”

While his death was nothing short of a tragedy, Hilinski’s suicide opened up a necessary discussion regarding athlete’s mental health. Pressure felt by coaches and peers can drive players into depressive states, with failure and embarrassment always lurking around the corner.

“What should happen is the formation of healthy, dynamic, and comfortable relations between coaches, trainers, recruiters, that allow for any persons of whatever party to step back and be able to recognize when their mental health is deteriorating,” Elijah Zabludoff of FOX Sports West wrote.

For now, all the Cougar community can do is offer support to students and players as well as the Hilinski family.

“He was an incredible young man and everyone who had the privilege of knowing him was better for it,” Leach said in his official statement. “The entire WSU community mourns as thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”