Hilliard making final stand at LSU

Kenny Hilliard has been around the block and back in his four years at LSU. Coming into his final season in purple and gold, Hilliard discusses his motivations, the benefits of additional reps, learning from Jeremy Hill and what advice he'd give the incoming freshmen.

For many players, especially the younger ones, spring football is a time to make a first impression, stepping out of the shadows of last year's depth chart and flashing glimpses of the promise and potential seen during the recruitment process.

In the case of senior running back Kenny Hilliard, however, this spring has taken on more of a ‘one final stand' feel.

Hilliard, who's lived long enough in an LSU uniform to remember being the lead back on an SEC champion and the third or fourth back on a three-loss Outback Bowl attendee, gets one more crack at college football and a return to his Freshman All-SEC form of 2011.

"I feel like there's a lot of opportunity for me," Hilliard said of this upcoming season. "I've just got to stay on top of my game, play hard and play physical like I've been doing the last couple of years, and everything will be all right."

The Patterson native has been a consistent goal-line threat for the Tigers during his career, scoring at least six touchdowns in each of the last three seasons. But his numbers took a dip in 2013, with personal lows in yards gained (310) and yards per carry (4.6). In fact Hilliard garnered double-digit carries on only two occasions and had four carries or less in seven of LSU's 13 games.

This spring camp has afforded Hilliard the opportunity to experience how the other half lives, dealing with a slightly less cluttered LSU backfield.

"I've been getting a lot of reps since it's just been me and Terrence [Magee]. We've been taking a lot of reps, and that's good for me and him," explained Hilliard. "I've never really had those reps since I've been here at LSU. I love the reps because it's getting me mentally and physically ready."

Part of the reason numbers are so low is the offseason exodus of Jeremy Hill, the team's leading rusher from the past two seasons, and Alfred Blue to the NFL. Hilliard, originally a signee in the same 2011 class as Hill, is determined to take a cue from his old friend and make good on his senior campaign.

"Jeremy was a great back. As a matter of fact, man, I look at his film every day because he did some great stuff," Hilliard continued. "I learned a lot from him because he was really a student of the game and now I'm becoming more of a student of the game. He taught me a lot."

Of course the other contributing factor to thin backfield depth this spring is that the two newest Tigers at the position – signees Leonard Fournette and Darrel Williams – don't arrive until the summer.

Hilliard's role has changed several times at LSU
Hilliard offered some advice to that duo, based on his own experiences making the leap, as well as his services as a mentor.

"A lot of us came in with the hype," said Hilliard. "I feel like once they get here they just need to keep their head level and just be humble. It's different from high school to college. Everybody is bigger, faster, stronger, so you've got to match that intensity. I guess if they come here and learn from the older guys and look at how we play, I feel like they're going to be all right.

"That's what happened to me. I learned from Spencer [Ware], and I learned from Michael Ford. I kinda studied those guys, and they helped me along the way. So if they come here humble-headed, they're going to be all right."

From understudy to advisor, the veteran Hilliard has known a number of roles while at LSU. According to the player, he's dropping at least one, though, in advance of this fall – fullback. Hilliard indicated he's strictly at running back this spring with Melvin Jones adding enough depth to the fullback position behind starter Connor Neighbors.

Hilliard's final collegiate go-round in 2014 is something he's looking forward to, but, as the father of two explained, it's about more than just gridiron glory for him at this point in his life, which is why he claims he never really thought about foregoing his senior season.

"I knew in my heart I was coming back," leveled Hilliard, who's working on his degree in Sports Administration. "This is my dream school. My family came here, and I just wanted to finish up and get my degree for my mom and for my girls. I made a promise to them that that's what I was going to do."


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