Hilliard looking for more success

BATON ROUGE — When LSU running back Kenny Hilliard stepped on campus last spring, fellow running back Spencer Ware, a sophomore at the time, saw a “shaken up” freshman.

Hilliard, a heralded signee who had set the state’s prep rushing record at Patterson High School with approximately 8,600 yards and added 106 rushing touchdowns in four years, was questioning his ability to compete in the Southeastern Conference at one of the nation’s top schools, Ware said.

“I just kept working with him and kept telling him, ‘Just believe in yourself, get your groove back, do whatever ya got to do,” Ware said of Hilliard, who he said also needed to develop a better understanding of the mental aspect of playing college football.

Little did both know, it was during Ware’s one game absence — a suspension for the Tigers’ game with Auburn — that Hilliard would have his breakout performance.

With Ware sidelined, Hilliard took on a more active role in the Tigers’ multi-running back offense. Against Auburn, the defending national champions, Hilliard rushed for 65 yards on 10 carries and scored his first two touchdowns as a Tiger.

Coming into the game, Hilliard had carried just five times for a combined 22 yards in the Tigers’ first seven contests.

From then on, Hilliard’s improvement continued as he closed out the last six games of the season with 47 carries for 251 yards and six touchdowns — all in a backup role.

Those totals included a career high 102-yard rushing performance against Arkansas and three touchdowns (two rushing and one receiving) in the SEC Championship Game against Georgia.

Looking back on it following LSU’s spring game roughly a week ago, Hilliard agreed with Ware that the mental aspect of his game wasn’t as refined as it is now.

“Now that I got the feel of the game, I’m very aware now about just playing hard and staying focused,” Hilliard said.

But Hilliard’s awareness has extended further than what he’s doing on the field.

During the offseason, he achieved a goal of the Tigers’ coaches by dropping 10 pounds, to 225. He trimmed down by eating healthier and training with LSU head strength and conditioning coach Tommy Moffitt on a stationary bike and a treadmill after spring practices.

“I’m still trying to get my weight down to 220,” Hilliard said after rushing for 40 yards on eight carries against LSU’s first-team defense in the football team’s annual spring game.

Hilliard’s offseason conditioning was recognized by the LSU coaches at the conclusion of the spring game as he was one of 10 LSU players given the Alvin Roy Fourth Quarter Award.

With that lighter frame has come an improvement on his cuts when he carries the ball, something that only can benefit him as he fights for playing time this fall with Michael Ford, who led the Tigers’ multi-running back attack, along with Alfred Blue and Ware.

And competition there will be heading into the fall.

“We’re going to be a talented running team,” LSU coach Les Miles said in his remarks following the spring game.

He complemented the play of Blue, Ware and Hilliard, as he noted that Hilliard was “hot” against LSU’s first team defense.

While it is a foregone conclusion that he will be battling with the other three for a starting spot at running back, Hilliard said the competition to start with the first team is not something the running backs harp on each other about.

“Everyday, we just keep each other up and push each other,” Hilliard said.

And although he will be competing with him in the fall, Ware said he hopes Hilliard can improve upon his freshman campaign.

“He has the physical assets,” Ware, who started as a true freshman in 2010, said. “He plays physical. He runs hard after contact, and he knows how to get into the end zone. Surely enough, he found it (confidence) last year. Hopefully he can just continue (to build on) it … this season.”

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