First Time Around

Mike Hilton's experiencing some firsts this fall. Being a college student is one them.

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Unfortunately a concussion is another. That's what happened to him on a play in Ole Miss' 41-20 win against Auburn on homecoming a week and a half ago.

Fortunately, however, Hilton is fine and back practicing. But it was a bit of a frightening moment, according to the Fayetteville, Ga., and Sandy Creek High School product.

"I was shocked," said the 5-foot-8, 182-pound true freshman. "I'd heard about (concussions) a lot but had never had one. My first one. I was like whew."

Whew indeed. And certainly nothing to take lightly. Hilton said he was concerned, at least as much as he could sense what was going on at that time.

"As soon as it happened, I blacked out," he said. "The next thing I remember I was getting helped to the locker room. It scared me at first, but everything's good now."

He practiced Tuesday as the Rebels continue to get ready for Arkansas following an open date.

"He was full go (Tuesday)," said Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze. "He did good. Had a good practice."

Hilton felt like he did as well.

"I feel pretty good. It was a slow process," he said of last week's recovery time. "I did all my tests. I'm feeling pretty good. Had a little contact (at practice Tuesday). That really tested how I feel."

Hilton is part of a group of freshmen and first-year Rebels who are contributing to the cause. Ole Miss is now 4-3 overall and 1-2 in Southeastern Conference play. The Rebels and Razorbacks meet at 11:21 a.m. Saturday in Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium.

Freeze mentioned Hilton and the group as a whole, and so did defensive coordinator Dave Wommack.

"He's like a lot of these young kids that have gotten better," Freeze said. "I think we're playing 12 freshmen of some sort, and I think (Hilton) has continued to improve, particularly in practice. Thus his playing time has been elevated. It's given us a little flexibility to make some moves on the back end to give us some more depth. So I'm real pleased with the way he's progressing."

"I think Mike's one of those guys that does practice hard every single day," Wommack said. "He's smart, and he's picked up what we're doing."

Hilton said it hasn't come without a lot of time, energy, and effort. He said he's put all of that into this season, beginning with August camp.

"I've just been taking my time and learning the whole system," Hilton said. "Just trusting the coaches is the most important thing. And then making my plays when I have the opportunity. I just worked hard. I watched a lot of film and asked a lot of questions so I can know the scheme just like that (snap). That's what I've done."

Hilton said learning to play against big-time receivers at this level has also been a challenge he's worked on.

"I've had to learn to relax," he said. "You're going to have your up and down games. These aren't high school receivers. These are top notch receivers from around the nation, so just play your game and don't lose confidence."

And being honest with himself on not being the focal point like he was in high school. Accepting that he's new and young has also made the transition better for him to play at this level early.

"I feel pretty good about where I'm playing and how much," Hilton said. "I'm so used to being the star, I had to sit back and wait my turn. Now that I've got my opportunity, I'm going to make the best out of it."

The coaches have Hilton playing at the husky position. He said he's fine with playing there.

"Honestly I really like it a lot, because it puts me close to the action," Hilton said. "I played linebacker my sophomore year, so I'm used to being in the box. I like to hit so it's a good fit for me. My junior year I only played safety, so this new corner/husky position is new to me. It's a whole new process of learning, but I think I've got it pretty well."

The Rebels know Arkansas, with a 3-4 record but recent wins over Auburn and Kentucky and also coming off an open date, have turned their seasons around. Hilton said they know what they're about to face.

"That's in the past," said Hilton of the early season lopsided losses for Arkansas. "They're really playing good and building some confidence off those last few wins. We know they're coming for us. We've just got to play our game.

"It's going to be real tough," he continued, specifically mentioning Hog quarterback Tyler Wilson. "He's a real good quarterback. First of all we've got to get some pressure from our D-Line and we can rattle him so our DBs can get some picks. Overall they're a real good team.

Hilton said the Rebels are simply focused on this one game. After that, then they will look ahead to Georgia.

"We're not worried about getting bowl eligible," he said. "We just want to get our wins and continue to build confidence. Just one game at a time."

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