MADISON - Darius Hillary’s philosophy when he’s out on a cornerback island by himself is simple: control what you can control.
“I want to make the most of every play that I have,” said Hillary. “Who knows? One play might be your last play. You just want to go out and play the game of football.”
Through the first two games of the season, however, Hillary’s chances to make a play have been minimal. Against Alabama and Miami University, Hillary has been targeted in one-on-one coverage only three times combined of UW opponent’s 63 pass attempts. Holding opponents to 212 passing yards a game, Hillary has been responsible for four solo tackles (one for loss) and a pass breakup but not much else.
While his presence as a senior leader and three-year starter likely plays a small factor, the offensive game plan of the Crimson Tide and the Redhawks didn’t include many isolation throws to receivers. When they did throw, they typically throw to the field side (or wide side) where junior cornerback Sojourn Shelton patrols.
That won’t be the case tomorrow against Troy (1-1), which runs a true spread offense with multiple wide receivers and an efficient quarterback who isn’t afraid of throwing the ball to anybody. That includes receiver Bryan Holmes, who as a sophomore finished third national with five catches of 50 yards or more.
“They will spread you out more than maybe what we've seen the first two weeks,” said head coach Paul Chryst. “Alabama and Miami were using the tight ends still. This week we'll see some with four receivers, so it's going to be a little bit more spread out.
“I think that as a team, their athleticism stands out … They are going to try to push the tempo on us. So I think there's some building blocks that we've kind of gone through these first couple weeks.”
It’s a challenge to prepare for but one that likely won’t rattle a unit that has 141 games of experience. Hillary’s 43 games and 30 starts are the most of the group (Caputo has played in 42 games and 29 starts).
“He’s a very intelligent player,” said defensive backs coach Daronte Jones. “He has a great feel for the game. He’s smart, knows his schemes and the playbook. He helps us in a variety of ways.”
One of those ways is on special teams. In the age of trying to strike a delicate balance between the number of starters used on special teams units, Hillary embraces the opportunity to get on the field for kickoff coverage and to prove to the coaches that he can play in multiple areas.
“I definitely think everybody can chip in on special teams,” said Hillary. “It’s the first thing to start the game off and then at the half. A lot of guys should take pride on it.”
While close with many of his teammates, there are few players Hillary has a better connection with than Shelton. The two are part of a tight-knit group of roughly 8-10 players who hang out at each other’s houses, go to dinner and see movies together.
Shelton and Hillary are mentors to each other, a reason why they’ve combined to form one of the best starting corner duos in the conference.
“We help each other almost every day,” said Hillary. “We’re two different types of corners … I am the type of corner that is going to get my hands on you, and he’s the type of corner that mirrors you. He’s pretty good at that. I’m a hard-pressed guy and he’s a soft-pressed guy. We have some differences but that’s what makes us so good.”