"I almost did not sign him; I almost messed it up," Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. "He had academic issues and he was undersized, but (co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach) Matt Luke said there was no question who was the alpha dog on his (high school) team."
So, like then Ole Miss head coach Billy Brewer did with a young Chucky Mullins out of Russellville, Ala., Freeze brought Hilton on board to play for the Rebels.
Now, heading into his senior season, the cornerback from Sandy Creek High School in Fayetteville, Ga., is wearing the famed No. 38.
“I had an idea, but I wasn’t sure. We had a lot of quality nominees,” said Hilton, the team’s leading tackler in 2014 with 71 total including 48 solos along with three interceptions. “I’m really thankful for the coaches trusting me to wear that number with pride and to live up to his name.”
In his three-year Rebel career, Hilton has started at least one game at every defensive backfield position. His willingness to do whatever it takes to help the team is evident again this spring, as he has made a switch to Rover after starting 11 games at cornerback last season.
“Since I stepped on campus my freshman year," Hilton said he had heard of Mullins. "Not only what he did for football but also what he did outside of football and for the community. I knew from that I wanted to be one of the ones to have that chance.”
Hilton said he knows he has to be even more of a leader and more of an effective student-athlete, both on and off the field.
“You do have to change and do more outside in the community,” he said. “Give even more effort on the field. You have to do more and raise your integrity even more.”
"This is the highest honor you can receive as an Ole Miss football player," Freeze said. "We had so many deserving candidates and it was a very difficult choice, but it's our honor to recognize Mike Hilton as this year's winner.”
Hilton said he is so happy the Ole Miss coaches brought him on board to play football at The University of Mississippi.
“I’m blessed and thankful Coach (Freeze) gave me the opportunity,” Hilton said. “And here I am now.”
One thing this requires is the number change. Hilton was No. 28 on the roster. Now he is No. 38.
“I’m 10 up from where I used to be,” said Hilton, drawing laughter from those assembled at Saturday’s breakfast banquet in the Manning Center on campus.
Former Chucky Mullins Courage Award recipients are Chris Mitchell, Jeff Carter, Trea Southerland, Johnny Dixon, Alundis Brice, Michael Lowery, Derek Jones, Nate Wayne, Gary Thigpen, Ronnie Heard, Anthony Magee, Kevin Thomas, Lanier Goethie, Jamil Northcutt, Eric Oliver, Kelvin Robinson, Patrick Willis, Jeremy Garrett, Jamarca Sanford, Marcus Tillman, Kentrell Lockett, Deterrian Shackelford (twice), Jason Jones and Mike Marry.
Ole Miss opens the 2015 season in Oxford against Tennessee-Martin on Sept. 5.
Mike Hilton - No. 38
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