One of many bright spots this season for the Ole Miss football team is the emergence of freshman huskie Mike Hilton. The Fayetteville, Ga., native came out of Sandy Creek High School as a highly-touted offensive player, but found himself on the other side of the ball at the college level.
So far, the transition has been a seamless one for Hilton, who has emerged as one of the key players on the defensive side of the ball for the Rebels. On the year, he has recorded 20 tackles, three of which were for a loss, and two sacks. He said he was surprised he found a home on the defensive side of the ball so quickly at the college level.
“I’ve been known to play a lot of positions,” Hilton said said. “Running back and slot were my main positions, but I’m athletic enough to switch sides and make an impact, so I’m cool with it.”
He said that back in his high school days, he would have described himself as an offensive player and looked forward to running the ball.
“Honestly, I would, since I had been playing it for so long,” he said. “I really didn’t get into defense until my junior year of high school and when I got here, but I’m used to it though.”
He realized during his recruitment and meeting with head coach Hugh Freeze that the move was going to be made when he came to Ole Miss.
“As soon as I sat down with Freeze the first time, he came to my school, and we had a good talk with my parents and he told me how they wanted to use me,” he said. “So I’m happy where I’m at now.”
Hilton said he wasn’t too bothered by the switch to defense because of his desire to get on the field.
“I just wanted to get on the field,” he said. “And they said they needed more depth, so I decided to run with it.”
For he, his understanding of how offenses worked and understanding of how running backs tend to run has helped him succeed on the defensive side of the ball.
“I can kind of tell what the running back is going to do,” he said. “No matter how much space they have, so it kind of gives me a little advantage.”
Now, he is faced with going up against a Georgia team he said he never followed despite it being his home state’s team. He said the Bulldogs did not give him a look in the recruiting process.
“Oh no,” he said of Georgia recruiting him. “Surprisingly not. I honestly didn’t grow up a Georgia Bulldogs fan, so I’m excited for this weekend. It’s going to be good to go back. I’m going to show them they missed out on a good player, but things happen for a reason.”
He said he took the lack of interest from his home state team almost as a slight to him.
“I met coach (Mark) Richt one time,” he said. “His words were, ‘You’re a real good player, but we are just going to keep moving,’ so I was like, ‘That’s fine. I respect your decision, but you’ll regret it.’ So we’ll see.”
So far this season, he has played in seven games with two starts but is starting to see his role increase more and more week to week. Although he has gotten plenty of experience, he said he still gets nervous before games.
“I’m still pretty nervous before every game,” Hilton said. “I know it is still a challenge every game no matter who we are playing, but as the play goes on, I just ease out and play my game.”
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