Hilliard headlines highly-touted 2012 recruiting class

(Photo Courtesy of the Miami Herald)

(Photo Courtesy of the Miami Herald)

Jackson Wolek/Staff Writer 

jackson.wolek@fiusm.com

The legacy that T.Y. Hilton left at FIU will be in the memory of so many Panther fans as the football program continues to grow. It was Hilton who helped bring the team two consecutive bowl appearances while being named MVP in both.

From his fast-break speed, moves that juked defenders out of their shoes and the best numbers in FIU receiving history, Hilton may never be forgotten, nor will the number he wore, the famous number four that fans always looked for when he was on the field.

That number comes with tremendous responsibility. Something new freshman quarterback E.J. Hilliard will have the special honor of holding. Hilliard, only 17 years old, has come to FIU a semester early after graduating high school. He now has a head start in continuing the legacy Hilton left behind.

As his high school coach will tell you though, it all started at a gymnasium at Northwestern Senior High.

Hilliard entered the eighth grade at Northwestern Senior high school in Miami, Florida; his plans were not the same as they are now. Having played basketball for his middle school team and travel teams, his main focus was to continue on as a basketball player in high school.

However, when the varsity football head coach, Billy Rolle, approached him about trying out for the football, his plans changed.

“He was at a summer basketball camp at the school, and during that time we were doing two-a-days,” explained Rolle. “I asked the junior varsity coach how the team was doing, and he was telling me they were doing good, but they still haven’t found a quarterback yet.”

The same time that conversation was taking place, Hilliard, who was already six-foot-one, was standing in the lobby of the gymnasium, waiting for the tryouts to begin.

“I asked him what position he plays, and he said point guard,” said Rolle. “I looked over at the J.V. coach and I said ‘Hey, there’s your quarterback right there coach!’”

Hilliard went on to play five games on the junior varsity level before moving up to varsity. Once he made it to varsity, for the next three years he sat behind Wayne Times, who at Northwestern was the starting quarterback, but now is the starting wide receiver for FIU, and Teddy Bridgewater, who is the quarterback at Louisville.

In his senior season, he compiled 2,010 on 134-229 passing and 18 touchdowns with six interceptions, while also rushing for 352 yards and nine touchdowns. With his acceptance into FIU, he is following in the footsteps of Bridgewater and Jacory Harris in going Division 1.

He is also keeping up with the trend of Northwestern football players coming to FIU. Northwestern has the most players from one high school on the FIU roster, six in all, including Hilliard.

“Those guys really started a pipeline in there. If I’m not mistaken Wayne Times may be the highest recruit coming out of Northwestern,” said the recruit’s father, Elgin Hilliard Sr. “Who knows, maybe in the future it will be something those kids can really look forward to.”

Hilliard chose FIU early in the recruiting process back in May of 2011 and also made the decision to leave high school a semester early. He is the youngest player on the roster right now, turning 18 on Feb. 25.

Being so young, he admits it will take time to gain the trust and maintain a leadership role on the team that the quarterback position demands you to have.

“I’m just a freshman, 17 years old and trying to lead these other guys who are 21 and 22, and it’s kind of hard because they probably might look at me like wait, hold up, I’m older than this guy,” said Hilliard. “But from the attitude these guys have and observing them, it’s like they would accept me in being a leader.”

He has the advantage of being able to begin the assimilation of getting to know his teammates and coaches and college life in general, more than any of the other FIU recruits this year coming out of high school.

What he hasn’t been able to get a leg up on yet is getting coordinated with the offensive coordinator. Since Scott Satterfield’s departure to Appalachian State, the Panthers are without one for now.

“I wanted to play for him in college, but I know it’s a business,” Hilliard said. “I learned that when I got here. The new offensive coordinator that they bring in, I know that he’s going to have the same style that coach Satt had.”

E.J.’s father also played football at Northwestern and went on to play college at Carson-Neuman College in Tennessee. When he played it was an NAIA school, now it’s division II. He can relate to E.J. about playing football in college and what he needs to do.

“I did it all wrong,” Hilliard Sr. explained. “You got to be disciplined, you got to be committed, and you got to keep in good communication with your family.  I went up there as a true freshman and I did it all wrong, and it came back to bite me.”

The one area in which even Hilliard agreed that he needs more work on is gaining weight. He says that what he’s doing now at FIU is basically the same as what he did in high school, but with just less weight and less repetitions, something he will have to get used to.

What he also must get accustomed to is life on his own in college, compared to the life he had just one month ago. But he is not all alone on campus; he has friends helping him out.

“Wayne Times and Willis Wright both told me they were going to take care of me when I got here,” said Hilliard.

He is also getting help from redshirt sophomore Jake Medlock, who will be competing with Hilliard and three other quarterbacks for the starting spot next year.

Even though Medlock may have the edge in regards to starting, since he has the most game experience, Hilliard says Medlock isn’t trying to hold anything back in teaching him everything he knows.

If Hilliard does get to come into games this season, it will always be in front of his family, who live just 20 minutes away. His mother, Tiandria Richardson, says she is particularly looking forward to the tailgating that will be going on.

Although Hilliard didn’t move too far, he is still gone, and Richardson is trying to adjust. She says that she typically sends text messages to him daily and tries to call him whenever she knows he’s available.

“I miss him tremendously, I get emotional from time to time and I’m adjusting,” said Richardson. “He’s going on to higher heights and getting ready to start a new chapter in his life, but yeah, I miss him a whole lot.”

Hilliard’s football career started at Northwestern, and where it will end up is anyone’s guess.  But to the people who doubted that Hilliard would end up where he is right now, he has just one thing to say:

“I’m here now, so anybody who had any doubt then, it’s not my problem, it’s something that they will have to deal with.”

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