Ohio running back C.J. Hilliard was almost certain in April that he wanted to play football for the University of Iowa.
He’s even more certain now, enough that Hilliard committed to Iowa Thursday morning. The Cincinnati native picked the Hawkeyes over Indiana and at least seven other scholarship offers.
“When I went to Iowa it was just a great family atmosphere,” Hilliard said Thursday morning in a telephone interview. “And the student atmosphere seemed great and the campus life seemed awesome.
“And they have great academics as well a great football program and a consistent football staff. When I committed to Iowa, I’m not worried about the coaches leaving or anything.”
Hilliard is the second member of the 2014 high school senior class to commit to Iowa this week. Defensive back Omar Truitt, who is from Washington D.C., made a verbal commitment to Iowa on Monday.
Hilliard attended Iowa’s open scrimmage on April 27 at Kinnick Stadium, which marked the end of spring practice. He was accompanied on the unofficial visit by his father and by his younger brother, Justin Hilliard, who is considered one of the top linebackers in the 2015 class. Justin Hilliard already has more than a dozen BCS scholarship offers, including one from Iowa.
“I’m just going to let him choose and decide,” C.J. Hilliard said of his brother’s recruitment. “But I’ll definitely be in his ear a little bit. In the end, it’s his choice. I’ll leave it up to him.”
The Hilliard brothers both attend perennial power St. Xavier High School, which is located on the outskirts of Cincinnati. C.J. Hilliard rushed for over 600 yards and scored nine touchdowns as a junior. He is ranked as a three-star recruit by both Scout.com and Rivals.com.
St. Xavier coach Steve Specht thinks C.J. will fit nicely in Iowa’s ground-oriented attack under head coach Kirk Ferentz.
“It’s no mystery how (Iowa) has won football games,” Specht said. “They want to pound the rock. They want to run the football. So if you’re going to Iowa as a running back, you’re going to carry the football.
“And it’s not just one guy that’s going to carry the football. As much as they like to run it, they’re going to have to use a stable of running backs. I think the situation for C.J. from a football perspective is it’s a great place for him.”
Hilliard said Iowa’s style of offense was a big factor in his decision.
“That definitely played into,” Hilliard said. “I’m used to the style. I love running the ball. So that definitely helped a lot with the decision.”
Hilliard’s commitment won’t become official until he signs a national letter of intent approximately seven months from now in early February. However, he and Specht both said Thursday that the decision was final.
“It’s not like he was making his decision blindly,” Specht said. “He did his due-diligence. He looked at all the schools. He’s been to enough places. And he just felt comfortable. And now he can focus on his senior year.
“As I told coach Ferentz on the phone, we’re about commitments. C.J. just made a commitment. He called all the schools that had offered him and thanked them for recruiting him, but told them that he’s made his decision and it’s over. And we pride ourselves as a Jesuit institution of being men of our word. The recruiting game is so crazy. I’d like to think we still do it the right way.”
Specht said C.J. Hilliard relies more on speed and elusiveness to gain yards. He also said C.J. is a capable receiver.
“He’ll be able to give them a little added dimension,” Specht said. “He’s loose hipped. He’s got quick feet. He’s a good vision back and he’s got a nice little spin move.
“He’s not a pounder. He’s not a guy that’s going to run over you. He’s going to try to run around you and use his quickness to beat you. And I think there obviously is a place for that in any offense.”
Iowa now has five verbal commitments in the 2014 class, all of whom are in high school. The others are Cedar Falls offensive lineman Ross Pierschbacher, dual-threat quarterback Jay Scheel, who attends Union High School in LaPorte City, and Dubuque senior offensive lineman Lucas LeGrand.
As for Justin Hilliard’s recruitment, Specht expects Iowa to get serious consideration, but not just because of C.J.’s situation.
“He went to Iowa with his big brother and they had a great visit,” Specht said. “So, sure Iowa is a school that is going to be on his radar simply because he enjoyed his time there, not just because C.J. went there.
“That distinction needs to be made. He enjoyed the visit on his own. I don’t think it’s ever been a question of a package deal. C.J. wants what’s best for Justin and Justin wants what’s best for C.J.”
C.J. Hilliard said he’s been working for most of his life to earn a football scholarship. He called it victory for his entire family.
“Ever since we were little we’ve all been working for this moment, to be able to go to college and do what we love,” C.J. Hilliard said. “I’m still getting used to it. My parents are loving it. They don’t have to pay for college at all. They can retire early.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football