LSU RB Hilliard confident in his ability
Kenny Hilliard can’t really explain it. It’s a mantra. It’s a state of mind.
It’s “No Ceilings.”
“My homeboy just gave it to me in high school,” Hilliard said. “I just feel like I’m on a level that no one can touch. That’s how I feel.”
His teammates say that little bit of pride is out of character for Hilliard. Anthony Johnson, who met the former Patterson star before their junior year of high school, called the pre-LSU version of Hilliard quiet and modest. Jarvis Landry remembers him keeping a small circle and staying grounded, despite the acclaim that came with being a highly touted recruit.
Few can blame Hilliard for coming out of his shell, though, and adopting the feeling that everyone is just trying to catch up to him.
Defenders do enough of that on the field.
The perfect example came past Saturday, when Hilliard bowled over an Idaho safety, then sprinted past the pursuing cornerbacks and linebackers for a 71-yard touchdown.
“I was just running,” Hilliard said. “With my God-given ability, I was able to outrun the defender and score.”
That ability had a little help this offseason, as Hilliard shed weight to drop to about 225 pounds. He called that the perfect size, and said the 240-pound Hilliard wouldn’t have outrun those defenders.
“I’m not dropping any lower than that,” Hilliard said. “I was at 220, and I felt like I was light and I didn’t really like it. Around 225 is perfect.”
That weight allows him to keep the power that gave Hilliard his fame. It’s the kind of power that countless opponents have experienced first-hand.
“He’s a really tough tackle,” said LSU coach Les Miles. “He lowers his shoulder, and it’s not just a punishing piece. He drops his shoulder, and he keeps his legs from being vulnerable and he strikes really low.
“The (defender) cannot make the tackle. It’s not so much the contact, it’s just he can’t make the tackle. He bounces off him.”
That balance of speed and power should come in handy this week against Auburn, as Hilliard can expect more responsibility in the running game with Alfred Blue out because of injury. Missing the “Shake” from the “Shake ‘n’ Bake” duo, Hilliard might be called upon to do more than just barrel up the middle and lay the boom on any prospective tackler.
“We’ve been preparing like that all camp,” Hilliard said. “In case someone goes down, the next person has to be ready to step up and play. We just have to come out and do what we do and play ball.”
The opportunity seems reminiscent of last year’s Auburn game, when Hilliard blasted onto the scene after Spencer Ware’s suspension. Hilliard racked up 65 yards on 10 carries with two touchdowns — all career highs at the time.
But Hilliard has a lot more on his résumé now than he did heading into last year’s contest.
He leads the team with 305 rushing yards this season. His six touchdowns are the most through three games since LaBrandon Toefield had seven in 2001. He’s also the first Tiger to score two touchdowns in each of the season’s first three games since Charles Alexander in 1978.
That success hints that Hilliard has evolved into much more of a complete back, growing from the guy that made a name by scoring from near the goal line. In addition to touchdowns of 1, 3 and 5 yards this season, Hilliard also has scores from 38 and 71 yards out.
“I just have to continue doing what I’m doing, stay humble, play ball and have fun,” Hilliard said. “That’s what it’s all about, just having fun. That’s what I’ve been doing.”
So don’t be surprised if all that fun temps Hilliard into letting a little bit of “No Ceilings” trump that humility.
“He holds it back,” Landry said. “But coach Miles and our teammates do a great job of making sure that he knows we know.
“That’s just his swag.”