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September 1, 2004Despite being regarded as the state's top prospect for 2004, Peyton Hillis has exceeded expectations so far on the Arkansas practice fields, and a few surprises have come along the way.
First, Hillis has worked his way up to No. 2 on the depth chart at fullback, and he is also seeing quality time as a tailback. His advanced blocking and running skills were expected, but he has shown excellent hands, as well. The biggest surprise came when Arkansas released its depth chart for the New Mexico State game.
"Not really [expecting to return kicks]. You don't expect a 6-2, 240-pounder to return the football. Either I'm going to kill somebody or I'm going to get killed. So, I'm looking forward to that too I guess," Hillis said.
Arkansas Coach Houston Nutt wants to take a look at Hillis back there. He has the ability to carry defenders and he can hand out licks as well as anyone on the team. If it does not work out, Nutt has more traditional kick returners for the job.
"We feel like we've got some good options there with those two guys with Peyton Hillis, Dedrick Poole, DeCori Birmingham, Michael Grant - you've got some names we can put in there," Nutt said.
After rushing for 2,631 yards and 29 touchdowns on 261 carries (10.1 ypc) as a high school senior in the state's largest classification, the 6-foot-2, 240-pounder chose Arkansas over scholarship offers from Oklahoma, Nebraska, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama and several others.
Rivals.com rated Hillis the No. 1 prospect in Arkansas, the No. 2 fullback in the nation and the No. 44 player in the southeast. Obviously, SEC football is a totally different game than 5A high school ball in Arkansas.
"It's a big step, but I'm favoring it pretty well. I like my classes and football's going great, so I have no room to bother. It's going pretty good," Hillis said. "I mean, it's a big step. The speed of the game is a lot faster, but every day I come out here, I adjust to it pretty well, so hopefully in a couple of weeks I'll have it down pat."
Hillis grew up and played football at Conway (Ark.) High School. He has been a Razorbacks fan his entire life. Before a scheduled official visit to Oklahoma, Hillis decided there was no point because he has wanted to run through the 'A' his entire life.
"It's going to be intense. I've always gone to the games, you know, and see the guys do it. It's going to be awesome, but I really won't get that experience until it actually happens," he said.
Nutt will play Hillis for several snaps Saturday against New Mexico State, but he said there is no way to tell how much action he will see.
"You know, it's just hard to sit down and say how many plays he's going to get here and how many plays he's going to get there. It's just hard. It depends on the flow of the game. What's happening? What do we need? Things like that," Nutt said.
When asked if Hillis would see some time at tailback, Nutt provided a quick answer.
"Oh yeah, absolutely, absolutely," Nutt said.
Hillis just wants a chance to prove himself. With football and school, Hillis said he has little time for anything else.
"I'm looking forward to it. I just hope they give me a shot, let them see me catch and run the football," he said. "Just playing football and going to school. I don't have time for anything else."
Hillis saw a lot of action with the first-team while junior Brandon Kennedy sat out with a broken finger. Kennedy, an experienced player, returned early and will start ahead of Hillis at fullback this Saturday.
"I don't think it will [bother Kennedy]. He's a physical guy," Nutt said. "I think we'll tape it up as best we can legally, and he'll go try to look somebody up and hit someone. He's been so consistent for us. I think he's got enough experience where he'll go play as if nothing's wrong with him."
For a glimpse of what to expect on Saturday, take a look at Hillis' High School Highlights.
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