Croot Loops: RB C.J. Hilliard

It's running back for now and maybe always for Hilliard

St. Xavier running back CJ Hilliard breaks through the ling of scrimmage en route to a 15-yard touchdown run with 9:30 remaining in the second quarter during Colerain's 31-19 win on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. Kareem Elgazzar | WCPO
St. Xavier running back CJ Hilliard breaks through the ling of scrimmage en route to a 15-yard touchdown run with 9:30 remaining in the second quarter during Colerain's 31-19 win on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. Kareem Elgazzar | WCPO

Iowa needs running backs. Iowa seemingly always needs running backs.

The Hawkeyes offered 11 RBs in the 2014 class and had some “no thanks” thrown their way until C.J. Hilliard announced on his Twitter account in early June that he committed.

Hilliard, 5-10, 185 pounds, had nine scholarship offers and picked Iowa over Indiana and Boston College.

“When I went there, it was just a really good feeling,” Hilliard told “I know my parents loved it, Justin loved it and it was a great atmosphere for our family. My parents were pulling for me to go to Iowa.

“The main thing that struck me was, some other top programs care about you just as a player but at Iowa they really care about you off the field as well as they do on the field. That really made an impression on me.”

At one point when he committed, rates Hilliard the nation’s No. 17 all-purpose back. His senior years at Cincinnati's Xavier High School took a strange turn. He saw more time on defense than running back. In six games, he recorded 40 tackles, while rushing for 350 yards and four touchdowns. As a junior, Hilliard rushed for 650 yards and 10 touchdowns, with 200 receiving yards and one touchdown. He rushed for around 700 yards his freshman and sophomore seasons.

Hilliard told "I'm still a running back, but my team needs me at safety, so I'm being a team player and spending most of my time on the other side of the ball. Hopefully that can help us get some more wins. . . . I mean it's different, but I wouldn't say difficult. My head coach [Steve Specht] is one of the best coaches in the nation and he just happens to coach safeties, too, so he's interested in teaching me the position. I've learned it pretty quickly and I think I'm pretty good at it."

Hilliard will begin at Iowa as a running back and work from there.

Basics: St. Xavier High School (Cincinnati, Ohio), 5-10, 185, running back

Dent the depth chart in ’14? — Probably not, unless Hilliard shows special teams skills. Iowa running back has become sort of crowded. Beyond the three who see time (Mark Weisman, Jordan Canzeri, Damon Bullock), there's LeShun Daniels, signee Markel Smith, sophomores Barkley Hill and Michael Malloy (Kirk Ferentz said nothing to report on departures, so there's that) and redshirt freshmen Akrum Wadley and Jonathan Parker. That's nine scholarship running backs next fall.

Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison — Damon Bullock scouting snippet — In addition to his run production, Hilliard brings potential as a release route runner and is a hands catcher who does a nice job running swing and screen routes. Demonstrates the ability to get open in scramble situations. He will need some time and most likely a redshirt year prior to challenging for playing time at the BCS level of competition.

What Iowa said . . .

Iowa recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson on Hilliard's potential: “He'll do running back possibly, maybe switch over to DB. We don't know exactly what we're going to do with him yet. Again, just a good athlete we felt strongly about."

He looks put together: "He's not a big guy, but he's a stout guy."

Running back always a need: "You can never have enough running backs."

Safety depth also seems as though it's a need: "We are looking for some depth at the safety position. We signed a lot of defensive backs in the this class. Most of them will start at the corner position. Safety from a depth standpoint is a need for us."

What said . . .

Midwest recruiting coordinator Josh Helmholdt: “What I like about him is he's going to be able to do everything that's going to be asked of him. He can run between the tackles, he can play on the edge. He can catch passes out of the backfield and he'll be a good blocker for you. He's a good all-around back. When you look at Iowa's injury and depth issues it has recently had, I think C.J. is an ideal pickup at that position, because he's not one-dimensional. He's multi-dimensional. He might not be 'wow' at one particular area, but he can fill and do whatever is asked of him."

What I think (FWIW, obviously) . . .

Hilliard does have good hands. In this highlight YouTube, he doesn't have to be square and in a comfortable position to catch the ball. That's soft hands and solid body control. Another thing that struck me was decisiveness. He sees the hole and doesn't mess around. He showed the kind of quick feet that can work in the Big Ten. He wasn't overly physical, so don't look for him, at least at this stage of development, to get the outside zone carry into the short side of the field. He's powerfully built, but not an overpowering runner. On defense? Nothing on the highlight YouTube. I'm as interested as you are.

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