When LSU’s preseason camp was getting under way, freshman Kenny Hilliard found himself well down a congested depth chart at running back.
It was a new experience for the all-time leading rusher in Louisiana prep football history, but Hilliard was unfazed.
“Once my name is called, I’ll seize the moment,” Hilliard said back then. “It’s just being patient. Your time will come. I’m not in a rush at all.”
Hilliard’s time came Saturday against Auburn, albeit a little unexpectedly. Even with leading rusher Spencer Ware suspended, coach Les Miles had a variety of options at halfback. Sophomores Michael Ford and Alfred Blue had gotten regular opportunities in relief of Ware, and freshman Terrence Magee had gotten a few snaps as well (15 compared to Hilliard’s five).
Ford started and went on to carry a team-high 12 times for 82 yards. Blue was in the lineup on the second play from scrimmage and finished with 17 yards on five carries. Magee eventually got three rushes and gained 14 yards.
But when the game was over, it was Hilliard who had had the biggest impact, scoring on touchdown runs of 9 yards and 1 yard and finishing with 65 yards on 10 carries in the Tigers’ 45-10 victory.
“The way he ran the ball, they just couldn’t bring him down,” offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert said. “I was really excited for him getting in (the end zone) twice as a freshman.”
At 5-foot-11, 240 pounds (15 more than his high-school weight), Hilliard brought a physicality to the run game that is Ware’s signature. He was used primarily at fullback during preseason camp, but Miles said on multiple occasions that he could envision Hilliard being a power runner in a one-back set, similar to what San Diego Chargers running back Jacob Hester was for the Tigers from 2004-07.
“He’s a great back,” wide receiver Rueben Randle said. “He’s powerful. It’s hard to tackle him. He’s been showing it every week. If the coaches give him more opportunities, I think he’ll take advantage of them.”
Miles said there was one run during the 38-7 victory at Tennessee two weeks ago that convinced him Hilliard was ready to take on a bigger role.
“Kenny makes a run in the Tennessee game that tells everybody, ‘wow, he’s ready, he’s assimilated college ball,’” Miles said. “So I was expecting (the performance against Auburn). We’ve seen how he’s running; and once he really had that nice run in the Tennessee game, we said, ‘OK, we’re kind of ready to go with this.’
“It takes some time, and there’s no way to judge how fast somebody is going to come. It just comes at different times. It was right on time.”
Ware is expected back soon, perhaps as soon as the next game — at Alabama on Nov. 5 — and Ford, Blue and Magee aren’t going anywhere. So Hilliard, who turns 20 on Halloween, will have to continue to bide his time.
Hilliard called Ware, Ford, and Blue “role models.”
“He’s a special player, and he’s making a lot of plays for us right now,” quarterback Jarrett Lee said of Hilliard. “He’s a young guy, but he understands football.”
Hilliard set the Louisiana prep football rushing record with 8,603 career yards and scored 106 rushing touchdowns at Patterson High. As a senior last year, he rushed for 1,804 yards and 22 touchdowns. If he hadn’t missed two games because of injury, he probably would have had his third consecutive 2,000-yard rushing season. He was still chosen the 3A Outstanding Offensive Player by the Louisiana Sportswriters Association each of the past three seasons.
His uncle, Dalton, is the second-leading rusher in LSU history (4,050 yards) and had an eight-year career with the New Orleans Saints.
Kenny Hilliard said he never felt any pressure because of his family’s name.
“The Hilliard name is going to carry itself,” he said. “My uncle came here and did what he had to do, and I’m coming here and doing what I have to do.
“My family always told me just to be prepared, keep your eyes open and never let nobody talk down on you, stay positive about yourself, take heed upon your work, never have a depressing spirit.”
Hilliard graduated early from Patterson High and enrolled at LSU in January. He participated in spring practice.
“I got a lot, from the classroom to football to being in the weight room with (strength and conditioning) coach (Tommy) Moffitt,” he said. “Everything, at first, was overwhelming. Somehow, I overcame that and took it and ran with it.
“(Being in school in the spring and summer) took a lot of pressure off. Coming in here early, getting adjusted to college.”
Players of the week
LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo and punter Brad Wing were named players of the week by the Southeastern Conference on Monday for their play against Auburn. Mingo was named Defensive Lineman of the Week after making four tackles, including two sacks totaling 21 yards in losses. Wing was named Special Teams Player of the Week after averaging 51.2 yards on four punts. Three of the punts were downed inside the 20-yard line.
Prime time next year, too
LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva said CBS has agreed to air next year’s game between LSU and Alabama at Tiger Stadium in prime time as part of the network’s deal to move the start of the Nov. 5 showdown between the top-ranked Tigers and No. 2 Crimson Tide to a night game.
CBS’ contract with the Southeastern Conference gives it the first pick of games to broadcast Saturday afternoon, and one prime-time game per season. ESPN’s contract gives it the rights to night games.
But CBS announced Sunday the 1-2 game on Nov. 5 would start at 7 p.m. instead of 2:30 p.m.
Alleva said Monday in a letter posted on http://www.lsusports.net that negotiations between the networks led to the change in this year’s schedule.
Tide players injured
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Two Alabama football players were injured during Saturday’s 37-6 win over Tennessee.
Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday that freshman offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandijo will miss the remainder of the season with a kneed injury. Saban said senior linebacker Alex Watkins will be out for two or three weeks to recover from a broken arm.
Advocate Assistant Sports Editor Joseph Schiefelbein and The Associated Press contributed to this report.