Spring Football: Hilliard Looking To Lead

STILLWATER – Corey Hilliard is a rare breed in college football. He's an offensive lineman, in this case offensive tackle, who started as a freshman and has played straight through his career and will finish his playing days in four years. Most offensive linemen redshirt as true freshmen. Those that don't often catch an injury at some point and use that season as a redshirt season.

Hilliard has moved back to his original position of left tackle this spring, and just a month away from his 21st birthday finds himself an old man on the team despite being younger than many of his teammates.

"It's flew by," HIlliard said after Wednesday's practice. "I have people telling me that they can't believe it's my last year. It has gone by fast, and I can't believe it's my senior year."

Want an indication of how Hilliard's playing career and status as the old man on the o-line have moved at warp speed? Fellow veterans on the offensive line, junior David Koenig and sophomore David Washington, will both turn 21 before the upcoming season concludes. Koenig will be 21 before the season kicks off. Offensive line coach Joe Wickline is trying to forge an offensive line out of that experienced trio and a large group of young, talented, but completely untested and inexperienced young linemen, including a redshirt sophomore transfer in Steven Denning, four redshirt freshmen and five true freshmen. They have spaced out Hilliard and Koenig at the tackles with Washington in the middle at center so the two new members at guard will have veterans on either side.

"I feel good about them," Hilliard said of Noah Franklin, Andrew Lawrence, Andrew Lewis and Denning. "We have some young guys that were second team last season and they have stepped up into first team roles. We have athletic guys. They are not big, heavy guys, but kind of on the skinny side for offensive line and they move around pretty good."

During Hilliard's time at OSU there has never really been a two-deep at offensive line. The Cowboys have usually had a starting five and a backup center and a third guard and third tackle. So, can a true second unit emerge this season?

"It's too early to tell," said Hilliard. "It depends on how these young guys come in like (freshman Jacob) Secrest and guys like the freshmen we have coming in this summer, but it is kind of early to tell."

Hilliard says the off-season program has been a key for him and the other offensive linemen on campus. Rob Glass' program has been a difference maker and it is apparent every day on the field and in the weight room.

"It's crazy what a difference a year makes because last year we were just getting introduced to it, and this year we're doing things we thought last spring were hard and we are so much better condition," added Hilliard. "Guys are getting bigger and looking slimmer. It pays off when you work hard."

The 6-5, 310-pound Hilliard is striking evidence. He looks trimmer, but has put on weight in the right places to get the job done. His job now extends as he became a team leader in the off-season program. This past year the New Orleans native has dealt with a lot, including seeing his family displaced when his childhood home was damaged badly as the result of Hurricane Katrina. His maturity, if not his age, is showing. He is dedicated to putting Oklahoma State football back in the winning side of college football and the Big 12.

"Yes, I've taken some stock in it," Hilliard proclaimed. "I've been trying to get more vocal and telling guys this is the right thing to do. Don't do this because it's the wrong thing to do and (to) just kind of help. We really need one (leader) on the o-line, so I have been trying to do that."

The first two practice of spring have been non-contact although Hilliard showed his eagerness for breaking out the pads on Wednesday when he went downfield on a wide receiver screen and laid out strong safety Donovan Woods while working on excellent technique.

"Hell yeah, I am ready for this," Hilliard said of putting on the pads Friday. "We've been ready for this since the last game."

Hilliard said that is the way he communicates best on the field, and it is the best place for him to be an example to the younger linemen.

"I don't talk much. I let the skill guys and the defense usually does all that and the receivers. When the pads come on you find out who does the trash talking and is really making plays."

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