Hillis has some fun

Homecoming was all about making it fun as Arkansas pounded Florida International, 58-10, on Saturday afternoon in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

Six catches, 77 yards. Two carries, 15 yards. Somewhere around 25 blocks on linebackers and safeties, three or four sealing the verdict on touchdown runs by Darren McFadden and Felix Jones.

That's what Arkansas fullback Peyton Hillis brought to the table in a 58-10 victory over Florida International.

Late Saturday afternoon, offensive coordinator David Lee was swamped with questions about his son-in-law quarterback, sophomore Nathan Emert. It was a good day for Emert. He relieved beat-up starter Casey Dick with a 13-of-25 passing day for 154 yards. There was also Marcus Monk to talk about. The senior wideout caught two passes for 19 yards, his first receptions since August knee surgery. One went for a 13-yard score.

But it was Hillis, the winner of the Crip Hall Award as the top senior in the Homecoming game, that Lee gushed over the most.

"What great, great catches and blocks he made today," Lee said. "Peyton is getting better every week. He's what I thought he could be in this offense. We brought a lot of new things here for Peyton, things that we brought from the Dallas Cowboys. It was a lot to learn and you can see him starting to take off with it now.

"You can learn the plays and run them, but running them fast and with confidence takes time. There's a lot to think about and you have to get comfortable with it to do it fast in a game.

"That's what I see with Peyton now. He's really making plays for us and it's making it work much smoother for us, especially on third down.

"He got outside the safeties and made some plays today both in the passing and running games. He had a really outstanding game.

"Yes, Nathan made some nice throws and into some tight slots, but even then you have to make some pretty good catches and Peyton did that for us today.

"We are giving him the ball in front of the first-down stake and letting him get the rest. He's got the ability to do that and he's really making some tough yards after the catch."

Hillis was excited to talk about those plays and proud that he pounded a few defenders.

"Coach Lee knows I'm not afraid to take a hit," Hillis said. "That's the kind of plays I like."

Hillis wasn't so proud of a third-down drop.

"I let one get away, that's what I probably remember the most," Hillis said. "That one was right to me and I dropped it. I can't believe I didn't get that one. Oh, I'll remember that one."

And, he'll remember winning the Crip Hall Award.

"I knew they gave an award for a senior in Homecoming," he said. "That's a nice honor, something in the record books. I'm from Arkansas so it's even bigger. But in 20 years it'll be even bigger."

Hillis knows not everyone is enjoying this season. Many fans recall the losses more than the victories. That's fine, he said. But excuse him if he's having fun as his senior season heads into the November stretch run.

"I'm just going to make it a game, have fun every time out," he said. "I've learned to do that. I'm having more fun than ever. I'm staying late at practice, kicking field goals and throwing passes, just making it an enjoyable day every day that I'm here. It's about over."

Earlier this week Hillis said it's about the way head coach Houston Nutt told him it would be three or four years ago.

"He always said it goes real fast, so make it enjoyable," Hillis said. "I am trying to do that because it's just like he said. I'm trying to tell the younger guys to make it fun, too. You can make it life or death, but it's not. It's a game."

Interestingly, Monk said he got a phone text from his high school coach, Mark Courtnay, just before he put on the pads Saturday.

"It said, ‘It's just a game, go have some fun,'" Monk said. "You forget that a lot of times. I tried to take that to the field. It was fun today. I don't know what tomorrow will bring. I don't know how my knee will feel after this, but today was fun."

Emert was feeling the same way, the center of attention in a locker room for the first time in a couple of years.

"To be honest, I forgot what it was like to be in a game," he said. "It's been a long, long time. But it was great, a lot of fun. I don't really know if I'll be out there next week. To be honest, when I came here I didn't know if I'd ever play again. So I'm going to enjoy this one. I think Casey is going to be fine. He seems fine to me. But I was excited to get in there for this game."

Emert said his job was simple with all the playmakers around him.

"When you have Peyton Hillis and all of those other guys, you just get them the ball and let them go get it," he said. "I thought he made some great, great, great catches today. I've seen Peyton and Marcus make some great catches the last two years both in games and in practices so I didn't worry too much about what was going to happen to those passes. They make it look really easy."

Monk thought Emert made it look easy.

"To tell you the truth, I've seen that before," Monk said. "Back in high school, I played against Nathan Emert. He beat our team. I didn't think he was any different today than he was that day."

Hillis was applauding Emert's performance, too.

"You see guys like Nathan Emert step in and play like that, come in an make some noise and that makes it even more fun," Hillis said. "He stepped up, handled the huddle right. He never complained when he wasn't playing. He just had some fun when it was his time."

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