Rut­gers prod­uct Hil­li­man try­ing to earn ros­ter spot

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Jim Hague

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — When Jon Hil­li­man was grow­ing up in New Jersey, he dreamed of be­com­ing a run­ning back for the New York Giants.

Hil­li­man even cut a day of high school to at­tend the Giants’ pa­rade and fes­tiv­i­ties af­ter they de­feated the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots in the Su­per Bowl in Fe­bru­ary 2012.

The 23-year-old rookie has a shot at ful­fill­ing his dream this sea­son.

The for­mer Bos­ton Col­lege and Rut­gers prod­uct out of St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City signed a free-agent con­tract with the Giants last May and has been com­pet­ing with Wayne Gall­man, Rod Smith, Paul Perkins and Eli Penny for a spot on the 53-man ros­ter.

While Hil­li­man’s chances of mak­ing the ros­ter are slim, he’s been push­ing for a spot, with the fi­nal cut­down at the end of the month.

“It’s been a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for me,” said Hil­li­man, who will get an­other chance to show his tal­ents when the Giants face the Bengals in Cincin­nati on Thurs­day night. “I know that there’s still work to be done. I’m going to go hard. I can only con­trol what I can con­trol and how hard I play.”

In the Giants’ 32-13 vic­tory over Chicago on Fri­day night, Hil­li­man was the team’s lead­ing rusher with 56 yards on 16 car­ries. He scored a touch­down on a 10-yard run up the mid­dle.

In his ex­cite­ment, Hil­li­man some­how tossed the foot­ball aside. Luck­ily, Giants All-Pro run­ning back Saquon Barkley re­trieved it for him.

On the first day of prac­tice af­ter the game, Barkley walked by Hil­li­man and ex­claimed, “This is the man right here.”

“Any time you have a su­per­star with you, it gives added at­ten­tion to the run­ning back room,” Hil­li­man said. “Saquon’s out there and he helps to show ev­ery­one how tal­ented we are as a group. I’m ex­cited to com­pete with him and the others. It can only help me to get bet­ter.”

Hil­li­man, who grew up in Plain­field, has no ex­pec­ta­tions about mak­ing the team. He just wants to keep work­ing hard.

There has been ad­ver­sity too. In the pre­sea­son opener against the Jets, Hil­li­man caught two passes for 16 yards. On the sec­ond one, he suf­fered a con­cus­sion.

“I re­ally didn’t get down on my­self,” Hil­li­man said of the in­jury. “I knew it was sort of a test for me.”

Hil­li­man spent three days on the side­lines in the con­cus­sion pro­to­col.

“I didn’t rush it,” he said. “I did what the doc­tors said. I felt fine. I didn’t have any symp­toms in the light.”

When he was cleared to play against the Bears, he made the most of it.

“It was kind of sur­real, get­ting a chance to play in front of my friends and fam­ily,” Hil­li­man said. “I was wear­ing the col­ors of the team I grew up lov­ing.

“I al­ways had such re­spect for this or­ga­ni­za­tion. That hit me as I was run­ning out of the tun­nel. I knew that this is where I wanted to be. I just wanted to put my best foot for­ward.”

If the Giants re­lease Hil­li­man, he’s pre­pared to move on.

“I will just go about my business,” he said. “I want ev­ery­one to have a job, but I know that’s not re­al­is­tic. My main fo­cus is to make this club and I’m going to do my best to make that hap­pen.”

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