LSU head coach Les Miles called senior running back Kenny Hilliard "special" after the team's final scrimmage and many hope that word describes him throughout the 2014 season.
Beneath the towering Horace Wilkinson Bridge (New Bridge) that spans the mighty Mississippi River in Baton Rouge, images of many different LSU football stars are painted on its powerful supportive concrete pillars. Those pictures are the creative work of artist Charles Barbier, who clearly has a strong admiration for the Fighting Tigers. Drivers taking Nicholson Drive away from downtown and towards LSU will see the famous Pastime Pizza on the left before Hilliard literally appears to be leaping into their vehicle from the right.
"That's a great picture," a happy Hilliard said while smiling. "I see it every day going to practice or school."
The artwork is derived from Hilliard's 38-yard touchdown run in LSU's 2012 season-opening 41-14 thumping of North Texas. Mean Green defensive back Hilbert Jackson, as the image reflects, made one last lunge at Hilliard and failed.
"As a matter of fact, I remember that play. I think I ran isolation and I bent it back. I scored the first touchdown," Hilliard recalled.
Indeed, it was LSU's first score of the season and Hilliard rushed for 141 yards in the romp. It's the kind of night many Tiger fans expected with regularity from Louisiana's all-time leading rusher. He is, after all, the nephew of LSU and Saints great Dalton Hilliard, who remains second in Tigers' history with 4,050 career rushing yards. However, countless LSU players have learned over the years they can't necessarily be the star every week.
"The coaches stay on top of you and mold you into a young man. That's what they did to me," Hilliard said.
His three-touchdown game during LSU's 42-10 rout of Georgia in the 2011 SEC Championship Game, along with his fast start the following year, hardly meant a concrete spot. Fellow Tiger running back and former high school rival Jeremy Hill would go from the back seat in August to driving the Tiger bus before the end of 2012.
Hill, now with the Cincinnati Bengals, continued his dominance last year with a whopping 1,401 yards on the ground and 16 touchdowns. Terrence Magee's patience and perseverance, likewise, finally paid off, as he enjoyed a break-out season. Hilliard scored a healthy seven touchdowns last year, but finished with just 310 yards rushing. It was his lowest total in three seasons with the Tigers.
"My role is anything they want me to play - fullback, halfback, sometimes spread out. I'll do what they ask," Hilliard said about what's ahead this year.
It's the attitude Hilliard has always embodied. As someone who has done countless interviews with No. 27 over the years, I can honestly say he's never griped about lack of carries or action. Staying for his senior season at LSU seems to be about much more than simply improving his NFL draft stock. He is just six credit hours away from earning a degree in general studies.
"I feel happy coming back and trying to win a national championship with these guys, getting a degree for my family. That's what I'm most proud of. I'm going to be the first son (of six) to get a college degree," Hilliard explained.
Miles told media Tuesday night that the former Patterson Lumberjack was the Tigers' leading rusher in the team's final scrimmage of fall camp, eclipsing 100 yards. A spectator of the scrimmage said Hilliard indeed looked lighter, faster and more explosive.
"Today, Kenny Hilliard was a very special back," Miles stated after the workout.
Here's hoping for good things from Kenny Hilliard in 2014. Sure, it'll be a fight again with incoming prodigy Leonard Fournette and Magee returning. However, Hilliard is a guy who's always done what's asked and set a great example for other LSU players to follow. He deserves at least a few more special moments during his senior campaign.
The canvas, or concrete pillar if you prefer, is bare.
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