Thigh No Longer A Problem For Hillis

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas fullback Peyton Hillis looks just fine. It's about time.

Not long after Tuesday's practice began, Hillis caught a short pass from quarterback Casey Dick, then cut upfield before being forced out of bounds by a defender.

Hillis didn't limp down the sideline, as some might have expected. He instead had that quick burst of speed that Arkansas' coaches are accustomed to seeing from the Conway native.

It was the type of play that Hillis has been known for, though lately he's been unable to make it because of a serious thigh injury that sidelined him toward the end of last season.

"I still feel like I'm not as fast as I need to be right now. That's just normal," Hillis said. "... (I'm) trying to get my flexibility back, but I'm taking to this offense pretty well.

"I'm getting to learn it a lot now. I mean, it's my last year, and I'm trying to make something happen."

Through the first few days of spring practice, Hillis has no doubt been one of Arkansas' biggest surprises. The fact that the senior can practice, let alone make plays, is a major accomplishment.

It was only a few months ago that Hillis had a hard time walking because of a large buildup of calcium in his right thigh, and he couldn't practice for more than a day or so without his leg giving him problems.

"I tell you, he's really doing good. I think he's going to have his best year," Arkansas running backs coach Danny Nutt said of Hillis. "He's really focused right now, and I hope he has a great year."

Hillis was expected to have a significant role in Arkansas' offense last year, but then the thigh problems began and his season soon ended.

After taking a hit to his right leg during a 31-14 win over Tennessee on Nov. 11, Hillis' thigh started swelling. Rather than healing over time, large deposits of calcium appeared.

In essence, a bone was growing in his thigh. It's not uncommon for that to happen in certain individuals, and Arkansas athletic trainer Dean Weber said Hillis showed a history of calcium buildups while in high school.

"He's just one of those abnormalities," Weber said. "Besides being a very good player, he has an abnormal ability to grow bone easier than others."

Weber tried several different approaches to correct the problem, including icing Hillis' thigh and using medicine to help deteriorate the bone. But it took several months and an extensive medical procedure to get Hillis back to the point where his right leg again had a full range of motion.

"I think it was a frustrating time for everyone because it was a part of the year (when) we were undefeated in the SEC and then we're coming up against some big-time competition," Hillis said, recalling the end of last season. "I think that me and the coaches got frustrated a lot, wanting me to get back out there but seeing that I couldn't do it."

Hillis doesn't appear to be bothered by the thigh problems anymore. He's been catching passes and running with power since the start of spring practice, and that's given him confidence heading into his senior season.

"All I know is I've got one more year left, and I have to do (to) the best of my ability to make it my best (season) and that's probably going to judge where I go in the future (like the NFL)," Hillis said.

"But right now, I've got to play the cards right. I've got to play my cards and see what happens."

High On Hillis

Rushing Att. Yards TD

2004 63 240 6

2005 65 315 3

2006 13 57 1

Receiving Catches Yards TD

2004 12 97 2

2005 38 402 4

2006 19 159 0

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