The Constant

In his Monday press conference, Coach Hugh Freeze made one point crystal clear. He isn't exactly sure, at this moment, what position junior defensive back Mike Hilton will play, but he's sure he will play, and that's good enough for Hilton.

In his two years at Ole Miss, Mike Hilton - all 5-9, 186 pounds of him - has played Husky, both safety spots, both cornerback spots and has even been a "spy" on former Heisman winner Johnny Manziel.

To many football players, that would be discombobulating and too much to handle.

For Hilton, it's all good.

Hilton doesn't care where he plays as long as he plays and he only worries about one label.

"I just want to be known as a football player," said the softspoken Hilton. "I'd play tight end if they asked me to, and I'd do my best to be good at it."

That sentiment is known by the Ole Miss coaches, thus there is no hesitancy to ask Hilton to do anything and everything that is needed.

Freeze was asked in his most recent presser where Hilton fit in now. He gave a wry smile before he answered.

Ole Miss do-it-all defensive back Mike Hilton.

"Mike is one of our best football players, period," Freeze noted. "He's productive no matter where we put him. He's vital to our success, and will be on the field somewhere.

"We watch a lot of film cutups as a staff and we rarely catch him out of position or giving up much. He just gets the job done."

Freeze and the defensive coaches fully understand Hilton's value to the team, even if some don't due to his less-than-ideal size and the fact he's not really a headline grabber.

But what's in Hilton's makeup that makes him the player he is?

Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack has an opinion on that question.

"Mike has a high football IQ. Some guys are rep guys, who have to be repped over and over to get something down pat," said Wommack. "With Mike, you basically show him once and move on to something else. He absorbs everything like a sponge and not only can he remember it, he can execute it.

"To go along with his football intelligence, he has football instincts. By that I mean he can adjust on the fly. He's going to do exactly what he is coached to do, but when something goes awry, he can adjust on the run. Intelligence and instincts are two great qualities to have in a football player."

You'd think that would be enough to explain Hilton's "worth" to the team, but Wommack continued. . . .

"Mike is probably underrated due to his size, but he is as tough as they come, pound-for-pound, and he can really run," he concluded.

“He absorbs everything like a sponge and not only can he remember it, he can execute it.”

Hilton takes it all - the praise, the trust-in-him factor and even the position moves - in stride.

"I'm someone who just wants to help the team. Don't get me wrong, I'm competitive and want to play as much as I can, but I'm all about doing whatever it takes to make the team better," he commented. "Like I said, wherever they put me, they will get all I've got."

Hilton believes he attains his status on the team and prowess as a player to doing just that, doing whatever it takes.

"Football is a passion of mine and knowing what to do and when to do it is also a passion of mine. I spend a lot to time in the film room and it all comes naturally to me," he stated. "I watch a lot of film on the opposing offense. I sometimes feel like I know what they are going to do before they do."

Getting him to talk about himself is like pulling hen's teeth, but with a little strategic coaxing, he will open up.

"I played all over the field in high school and I guess that's where I got the knack. I just translated that jack-of-all-trades mentality to college football and it has paid off," Hilton noted.

He claims it's not hard for him to switch positions, even mid-stream.

Last spring, he was exclusively a cornerback. Over the summer, backup Husky Chief Brown tore his Achilles and the first thought of the defensive coaches was "Mike Hilton," but through the first three practices in August he was at corner and Cliff Coleman, also a CB in spring, was moved behind starter Tony Conner.

Hilton spied Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel.

"To me, it's not that difficult to switch positions. Most of the time, with a position change, it's tough on some guys because they resist it and don't attack it with a positive attitude," he explained. "I just let it happen and shift gears to whatever I'm being asked to do."

In the offseason, Hilton put on seven good pounds of muscle and got stronger while maintaining his speed. That doesn't sound like much, but when one starts out at 179 pounds, the weight he played at last season, that's fairly significant.

"I feel stronger than ever and that gives me more confidence," he added. "I kept my speed and quickness and that was my goal."

So now, as 2014 looms, what is going on in Hilton's brain? Excitement.

"When I first got here, I don't even know if we were one-deep on defense in terms of being as good as some of the teams in the SEC," he said. "Now, we are two-deep in most spots and three-deep in some. That's exciting.

"We all know if one of us goes down, there's someone just as good ready to step in and take up the slack. We all know we can get a break during games and stay fresh. Fresh athletes are way more productive. Our depth will help us a lot this year. And the good thing is that nobody on this team is jealous or not buying into that concept. We all know that for us to be the kind of team we think we can be that it's going to take everyone."

So what are the goals for this team, in Hilton's mind?

"We have been competing with, and beating some, of the best teams in the country the past two years," he closed. "This year, we think we can do more. We think we can be special, a team that can challenge for the highest goals.

"We just have to stay together and work hard."

No matter what the Rebels achieve in '14, there is one certainty on this team.

Mike Hilton will be in the middle of the scrum doing his thing - producing.

OM Spirit Top Stories