This summer, Degree launched its Breaking Limits campaign as part of its NIL program with student-athletes. Northwestern quarterback Ryan Hilinski is one of the newest athletes to join the Degree team.
Hilinski, who started his college football career at South Carolina, transferred to Northwestern in 2021. Alongside Degree, he plans on telling his story of overcoming adversity.
We caught up with Ryan Hilinski to discuss his partnership with Degree, upcoming season at Northwestern and more.
The Spun: Can you tell us about your partnership with Degree?
Ryan Hilinski: I think it kind of went back to when Ethan and I started working together. He talked to me about what I like, what I don’t like and stuff I can get behind. When I was presented with Degree’s Breaking Limits campaign, it was something that was aligned with my values in terms of being able to tell your story. It was an easy ‘yes,’ because it was something I could easily get behind. Obviously, it has worked out well. I’m excited to be on this team of wonderful athletes and people who are helping me along the way.
The Spun: Did Degree’s preexisting team of athletes make this decision easy for you?
RH: When they presented me with last year’s team, you’ll see Adrian Martinez on there. I know his values, so seeing him on there helps for sure. You have wheelchair basketball athletes, softball stars, UCLA gymnasts on this year’s team. So it definitely does influence my decision. But obviously working with other athletes and getting to know their stories helps when you get down to it.
The Spun: What are your thoughts on NIL as a whole? How beneficial has it been to you and other student-athletes?
RH: I was at a talk the other day with a couple of other teammates, and the speaker made a great point about being unselfish. I think the NIL world can make you lose sight of your teammates sometimes, but when you have people doing things for the right reasons, like Degree, it makes things a lot easier. It’s something you need to navigate, but when you have the right people, it makes this process easier.
The Spun: You’re entering your second season at Northwestern. Has your comfort level changed heading into this fall?
RH: I’m glad you brought that up because I just gave a talk to the team the other day about trust. My freshman year, I had Bryan McClendon as an offensive coordinator at South Carolina. My sophomore year, I had Mike Bobo. This past year, I had Mike Bajakian. This is the first time I’ve had the same offensive coordinator for two years in a row. So my confidence level has gone up because I know the guys around me and I’ve been around the playbook long enough where I know it for two consecutive years. I think that’s a credit to Coach Bajakian and Coach [Pat] Fitzgerald. It helps when you have people on your side like that.
The Spun: How has training camp been so far. Do you feel like you’ve already shown enough to win the starting job?
RH: We just finished our fifth practice yesterday. We play in 24 days against Nebraska in Ireland. When it comes down to it, the coaches have been challenging us all offseason about being leaders. We have a leadership council at Northwestern, and we have three quarterbacks on that council. When you have that whole room binding together and having the same message, it helps a lot. Even though we don’t have a starter named yet, it allows us to all be leaders for this team. I think the best thing about Northwestern is that we have a great room that gels well together.
The Spun: What’s your excitement level for Northwestern’s trip to Ireland?
RH: I’ll tell you a cool story. Ten years ago, my brothers, Tyler and Kelly, had a game in Ireland. They were on the same team, it was called the G.I.F.T. Tournament. They played a team from Arizona. At the time, I was in a wheelchair. I remember going over there in Ireland and watching my brothers play. I was also lucky enough to watch Notre Dame and Navy play in the same stadium we’ll be playing in. My excitement level is through the roof. For starters, I’ll be able to walk on my own two feet in Ireland soil. Losing Tyler, and going back to this Degree Breaking Limits campaign, I know my brother isn’t here but I can still go out and win a game for him. Not a lot of people can say they played a football game in Ireland. The fact that our matchup is against Nebraska makes it even sweeter. We’re really excited for this opportunity.
The Spun: You were nominated to Allstate's American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Good Works Team. What does that mean to you?
RH: I didn’t know I was nominated until our Twitter account posted it. It’s one of those honors that you just think, ‘Man, it feels good to get that.’ I remember when I was at South Carolina one of my teammates, Spencer Eason Riddle, was nominated for the same award. He was someone I looked up to every single day. SO this award shows that you need to do right off the field, in addition to what you’re doing on the field. It comes back to how my parents and brothers raised me. I treat others the way I want to be treated.
The Spun: Northwestern is just two years removed from a 7-2 season. What do the Wildcats need to improve to get back to that level?
RH: We kinda lost our respect last year. We rolled over when things got tough, we lost our optimism and grit. That’s something we’ve been working on all offseason. When it comes down to it, we’re a team that fights. I think Coach Fitz has created that culture at Northwestern. Guys just won’t quit this offseason. I think that’s our main focus this offseason.
The Spun: Do you have a favorite moment from your college career thus far?
RH: There are so many moments. I think it comes down to the locker room and being with those guys. Giving a trust talk on our team values to the rest of the locker room was special. Being able to stand in front of the team and talk about the changes I’ve made is something I’ll look back at forever. You need to appreciate the locker room while you’re still around, because when you don’t have it anymore, it’s going to sting.
Hilinksi had 978 passing yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions in 2021.
With another year under his belt, Hilinksi is hopeful he can lead Northwestern to a successful season.
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