Vanderbilt linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer, an All-Southeastern Conference pick in 2002, was selected in the fifth round of the NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers Sunday. He was the lone Commodore chosen in the league's seven-round draft.
Two Vanderbilt captains from last year, cornerback Rushen Jones and wide receiver Dan Stricker, also inked free agent deals with NFL teams late Sunday. Jones, a four-year starter for the Commodores, agreed to terms with the Minnesota Vikings. Stricker, the Vanderbilt career leader with 21 touchdown receptions and one of the Southeastern Conference's all-time leading receivers, signed with the New England Patriots.
The Packers traded up to obtain Hillenmeyer, getting Philadelphia's 166th selection by offering their pick later in the sixth round and a seventh-round pick. Hillenmeyer led all SEC defenders with 116 solo tackles and 168 total stops during the 2002 season. He moved to middle linebacker for the Commodores last year after playing three seasons at outside linebacker.
The Nashville native and graduate of Montgomery Bell Academy was the sixth middle linebacker overall taken in the draft. He will compete against veteran starter Hardy Nickerson among others for the Green Bay job.
Hillenmeyer was the first Vanderbilt player selected since four Commodores were taken in the 2001 Draft. He becomes the first Commodore selected by Green Bay since cornerback Fred Vinson was taken in the second round of the 1999 draft.
Hillenmeyer also continues Vanderbilt's tradition of producing NFL-caliber linebackers. He becomes the fourth Commodore backer since 1998 drafted by the NFL, joining Jamie Winborn and Matt Stewart in 2001 and Jamie Duncan in 1998. Another former Vanderbilt linebacker, Shelton Quarles, was a starting linebacker for the 2002-03 Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Hillenmeyer combines excellent physical size (6-4, 242) with a superb understanding of the game, and is expected to benefit at the next level from his experience at both middle and outside linebacker.
The draft marks another honor for Hillenmeyer during his senior campaign. In addition to earning First-Team All-SEC status by conference coaches, Hillenmeyer added two prestigious academic honors this year. Last October, he was named as one of six "National Scholar Athletes" by the College Football Hall of Fame and National Football Foundation. He followed that award by becoming Vanderbilt's first football player named First-Team Verizon Academic All-American in two decades.
In 2002, Stricker led the Commodores with 44 receptions, good for 620 yards and six touchdowns. The two-time All-SEC selection ended his career second all-time among Vanderbilt receivers with 2,880 receiving yards.
Stricker will join a New England Patriot team two years removed from winning the Super Bowl. Though the Patriots return two starters in David Patten and Troy Brown at wide receiver, they do have experienced depth at the position. In addition to signing Stricker, the Patriots used a second round pick to grab wide receiver Bethel Johnson of Texas A&M.
Jones will attempt to join Vanderbilt graduate Corey Chavous in the Minnesota secondary. Chavous, a recognized NFL Draft expert in his own right who joined the ESPN broadcasting team for its coverage this weekend, started at defensive back and safety for the Vikings last year.
Jones, a freshman All-American in 1999 for the Commodores, put together his best statistical season this year, contributing 70 tackles and a team-high 10 deflected passes for the Vanderbilt defense. When he gets to the Vikings' claim, Jones should compete for an backup role at cornerback. The Vikings did not select a defensive back in the draft.