COLUMBIA, Mo. — South Carolina tight end Kyle Markway figures something memorable is bound to happen Saturday. It always does when the St. Louis native plays against Missouri.
In 2015, then just a freshman, Markway made his first career reception at Mizzou, a 14-yard grab.
In 2017, after a foot injury wiped out his sophomore season, Markway returned to Faurot Field and suffered a season-ending broken rib on the biggest play of the game, Deebo Samuel’s momentum-shifting 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
In 2018, Markway made the play of the game in South Carolina’s comeback victory over the Tigers, snagging a 27-yard pass down the seam in the final minute to set up the last-second, game-winning field goal. In a game remembered for the monsoon that swamped Williams-Brice Stadium in the second half, the catch was one of just three Markway made all season.
“The storm comes to mind first, playing in that rain, everyone slipping and sliding in the puddles,” Markway said in a phone interview this week. “I’ll never forget that play and being able to ultimately win that game in those conditions.”
“It was special, no doubt,” he added. “It meant a lot to me. It meant a lot to the team.”
This year, as Markway prepares for another homecoming, Saturday’s Tigers-Gamecocks showdown at Mizzou, the former All-Metro defensive end from Vianney High is especially grateful for his expanded role in the offense. Through three games, Markway has nearly doubled his previous career totals with 11 catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns. He’s healthy. He’s a starter. He’s producing.
“It’s been fun, man,” he said. “It’s been a bumpy ride for me the last four or five years, so to finally have it pay off by catching more passes and being a bigger part of the offense has been worthwhile.”
Markway, 22, is still just a redshirt junior and has been granted a sixth year of eligibility for 2020. He’s made the Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll each of the last four years, was recognized as one of South Carolina’s top student-athletes last spring and already has earned his undergraduate degree. On the field, six of his 11 catches have gone for first downs. In last week’s loss to No. 2 Alabama, he logged a career-high five receptions for 46 yards. He was flagged for an untimely holding penalty on a fake field goal that cost the Gamecocks (1-2, 0-1 SEC) a touchdown but otherwise has been a valuable veteran for an offense now headed by a freshman quarterback.
“Stability would be the word that would jump out at me,” Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp told reporters this week in Columbia, S.C. “The guy has played really good football for us. He’s been a very steady contributor his entire time on the field. . . . He gives us a lot of variety in the passing game. He does a good job in the underneath zones and finding soft spots in coverage. He does a good job blocking at the point of attack.”
Markway has been around so long, of the 113 Missouri and South Carolina players who played in the 2015 game — the last Mizzou victory in the series — he’s one of only two still on either roster, along with Gamecocks starting center Donell Stanley.
“Something always happens in that game,” he said. “So hopefully it’ll be positive this year.”
As an all-state two-way player at Vianney, Markway collected scholarship offers from several Power Five programs — but not from the home-state school. Markway said he attended a camp at Mizzou his sophomore year but wasn’t the kind of tight end the Tigers wanted for their system.
“They didn’t believe I fit in the offense so they moved on,” he said. “It motivated me to be a more well-rounded tight end. It’s led me to be the player I am today. I’m thankful for it.”
(Coincidentally, Markway looks like a natural fit for the tight end mold the Tigers have recruited for offensive coordinator Derek Dooley’s system. “I agree,” Markway said, laughing.)
Markway, a three-star prospect at Vianney, said he “fell in love” with everything South Carolina sold him, especially the tight end’s role in Steve Spurrier’s offense. But Spurrier stepped down midway through Markway’s freshman year, and once Muschamp took over, Markway’s injuries put him on the sideline for nearly two full seasons. He played behind All-SEC tight end and 2018 first-round NFL draft pick Hayden Hurst but has since found his niche — better late than never.
“It says a lot about his upbringing. He’s got a great family,” Muschamp said. “They’re able to come to a lot of the games and come a long way for a lot of the games. Kyle’s a first-class young man. He’s got a huge future in front of him in a lot of ways, whether it’s in football or the business world or whatever it is because he’s extremely bright, extremely intelligent, he’s got a great work ethic.”
On Saturday, Markway will be on the receiving end of passes from the SEC’s freshman of the week, Ryan Hilinski, who threw for 324 yards and two touchdowns against Alabama.
Hilinski and his family have their own compelling backstory that’s captured empathy across college football. Older brother Tyler Hilinski, a quarterback at Washington State from 2015-17, committed suicide in January 2018, shortly before Ryan made his college choice to play for the Gamecocks. (Missouri was among the many schools that offered him a scholarship.)
Tyler later was found to have signs of Stage 1 chronic traumatic encephalopathy, CTE, a neurodegenerative disease associated with head injuries. The Hilinskis since have launched a nonprofit organization, Hilinski’s Hope Foundation, to raise awareness of mental health for student-athletes. This week, the Mizzou Student-Athlete Advisory Committee is collecting signatures on a Hilinski’s Hope banner to promote the movement on campus.
In his first SEC start since replacing injured senior Jake Bentley, Hilinski gave the Gamecocks more than hope against Alabama.
“That game really showed me that he’s a tough kid,” Markway said. “He’s been through a lot. He got hit six or seven times by those big guys from Alabama and each time got up and continued to make those throws and make those plays and get us in position to have a chance in the game.”
To have a chance Saturday, Hilinski might want to look for his elder statesman making his last appearance in his home state.