By Luke Johnson | LSU Student
Seeing LSU sophomore running back Kenny Hilliard run is like watching an onomatopoeia-laden Batman episode from the 1960s.
WHAM! Hilliard bursts through defenders with the determination of a Brinks truck carrying the Hope diamond.
POW! Hilliard lowers his shoulder on a would-be tackler.
ZOOM! Hilliard is a flash on his way to the end zone with a quickly fading mob trailing in his dust.
His heroic performance this season has kept the No. 3 Tigers perched in their lofty position among the nation's elite.
In four games, the sophomore from Patterson, La., has 343 rushing yards and six touchdowns to his credit, even while sharing carries with the other members of LSU's deep running backs corps.
This time a year ago he wasn't even listed as a running back on the Tigers' depth chart.
"We had to ease him in so he could understand the offense," said LSU coach Les Miles about Hilliard's beginning at LSU. "We started with what were his calls."
Those calls were simple, up-the-gut thrusts from the fullback position. In his first six collegiate games, Hilliard gained seven yards on four carries. He was getting accustomed to the differences between high school and college football.
"That's just a role that I had to play," Hilliard said. "I didn't mind doing it. Whatever it takes for me to get on the field, I would do."
While Hilliard wasn't heralded as a program-defining recruit when he arrived on campus, the name Kenny Hilliard held some clout.
By the time his high school career had closed, his name was etched in Louisiana history with a state-record 8,603 career-rushing yards to go along with 106 touchdowns.
It was evident early there was something special about Hilliard to LSU senior tight end Chase Clement, who competed against him as an all-state defensive end for E.D. White High School in Thibodaux.
Clement was a senior for his one high school matchup against Hilliard, who was a freshman at the time.
"He was always a man among boys," Clement said. "He … would run you over, then run away from you."
That same sentiment is clear today.
In the 10 games since his debut as a running back against Auburn last season, Hilliard has been a paydirt-seeking missile, racking up 14 touchdowns.
"He's our power back," said sophomore wide receiver Jarvis Landry. "He comes in on third and short to get those little yards that we need and every now and then he breaks a few."
Hilliard's running style is almost elegant in its brutality. Once underway, he looks like a bowling ball in a pinball machine. He carries 225 pounds on his 5-foot-11 frame — and that's after he made a concerted effort to shed weight during the offseason. That thick build makes it difficult for defenders to bring him down.
"He's a hard-nosed, downhill physical back," said junior offensive tackle Alex Hurst. "I'm sure [defenders] tend to cower when they see a train coming through the hole."
Once Hilliard is in the open, he showcases his surprising burst — even though he concedes that his best 40-yard dash, the measuring stick for a football player's speed, is a middling 4.6 seconds.
But he has what he calls, ‘game speed.' At least most of the time.
"With Kenny, sometimes he's fast, sometimes he's not," Landry said. "I guess it depends on what he eats at the hotel before the game."
Hilliard ate his Wheaties before the Idaho game.
With the Tigers well ahead of the Vandals early in the fourth quarter, Hilliard ripped off a career-long 71-yard touchdown run.
"Somebody should get the oxygen machine," a laughing Landry recalled thinking after the run.
The play demonstrated how far Hilliard has come as a ball carrier.
Five yards after crossing the line of scrimmage, Hilliard lowered his head like a battering ram and plowed over a Vandal defender. He quickly regained full speed. With a defender in pursuit, he crossed Idaho's 35-yard line and changed direction – with the help of an electronic friend.
"I looked at the video screen [on the scoreboard] and saw him right behind me. That's why I kind of veered off to the right."
Runs like these have Miles calling Hilliard a "more complete back," andhis teammates realizing how far he has come in the last year.
Hilliard is soft spoken, but his play is loud.
"We used to get after Kenny a little bit," said junior linebacker Kevin Minter. "But now Kenny, he's punching back. I'm proud of the dude. He's come a long way."