Eleven months ago today, LSU sophomore running back Kenny Hilliard was nothing more than the nephew of an old Tiger legend with a lot of potential.
Eleven months ago Saturday, Hilliard made a name for himself in one of the nation’s deepest backfields after a 65-yard, two-touchdown performance against Southeastern Conference rival Auburn.
In the wake of then-sophomore running back Spencer Ware and three other Tigers’ suspensions for a violation of the team’s substance abuse policy, Hilliard received his chance to follow in the footsteps of his uncle, former LSU running back Dalton Hilliard.
“[Ware] went down with the issue he had going on, and I was able to come in and pick up his slack,” Hilliard said. “And that’s what it’s all about. Being able to come in and pick up other people’s slack.”
Before that week, Hilliard recorded only five carries for 22 yards.
Since then, Hilliard has become a deadly weapon for the Tiger offense, posting 94 carries for 618 yards and 14 touchdowns — all of which lead the team.
“I’m just trying to pick up from what I did last year and continue to get better each and every week,” Hilliard said. “I feel like I am [a complete back]. I’m just going to go out there, stay humble, get my assignments and have fun.
This season, Hilliard has produced 21.4 percent of LSU’s total offensive yardage and contributed to nearly a quarter of the Tigers’ point total.
The only Tiger with more touches and yards than Hilliard is junior quarterback Zach Mettenberger.
“Whoever is getting the ball is going to be the person we’re looking for to get the yards,” said senior left guard Josh Dworaczyk. “You get Kenny in a hole, full speed ahead, we saw that last week and hopefully we see some more of that this week.”
LSU coach Les Miles compared the 1-2 combination of Hilliard and fellow running back Alfred Blue to the “Shake and Bake” saying from the Will Ferrell movie “Talladega Nights.”
But with Blue sidelined by a knee injury suffered in last week’s game against Idaho, there may need to be a little more “shake” in Hilliard’s play against Auburn.
“I’m not nervous,” Hilliard said. “It’s the game of football I’ve been playing all my life. I’m going to take this opportunity to get better and do what I can for this team — just take my time out there and play football.”
With Blue’s injury, Hilliard knows he’ll have to be the one to step in and take over his teammate’s duties in the backfield.
“[Blue] is very good at picking up blitzes,” Hilliard said. “We’re all good at it, but he’s really good at picking up blitzes and outrunning defenders, but we have Michael Ford for that, too.”
Ford is expected to take over the role of speed back at Auburn, but as Hilliard’s 71-yard touchdown run against Idaho showed, Hilliard has wheels of his own.
Hilliard finished last season weighing in at 240 pounds. But during the offseason, the Patterson, La., native dropped some weight and is ready to show off his newfound speed.
“If I didn’t [shed weight] I couldn’t outrun the defenders,” Hilliard said. “Dropping down to 225, that’s perfect for me. I’m not dropping any lower than that because I was at 220 one time and I feel like I was light and I didn’t really like it.”
Hilliard knows the new batch of freshman backs will be laying in wait for an opportunity, just as he did a year ago.
“I had to wait my opportunity, too,” Hilliard said. “My turn came just as well and I took advantage of it. [Jeremy Hill’s] turn came and he took advantage of it. When somebody goes out, the next person has to come up and play that role.”