Cedric Hilliard has always been a pretty quiet person when being interviewed. He isn't quiet on the field however and that is great news for Irish fans. Hilliard developed into a top-shelf nose guard last year and when injured last year, his absence was certainly felt. Hilliard is hoping to parlay a healthy and productive season into NFL riches in 2003 and Irish fans hope he signs a fat check because that will be the result or a great season for the Irish in 2003.
Hilliard says he has set some goals for 2003 but not in terms of numbers of sacks or tackles. "I've set some goals," said Hilliard. "I haven't set any goals in terms of numbers because I don't know scheme-wise what it will allow me to do individually. I've just made a goal to be the best I can be and I realize that is kind of cliché' but I just want to help this team win the National Championship."
Hilliard dominated at times last year and he thinks some of his best work rarely gets noticed. "A lot of times, my assignment calls for me take on the center and the guard. What I try to do is hold up the guard so the linebackers can make a lot of plays. Sometimes I get into a situation where I am one-on-one and that's when I can make a play. I think my quickness enables me to do that when I'm one-on-one with a player and I think my strength allows me to take on the double-team and split double teams so I think the combination of both makes me a pretty good player."
I also said in my prediction that Courtney Watson was Cedric Hilliard's best friend on the field (and off from what I understand). Hilliard says that taking on the double team is one of the most important jobs of a nose guard—probably just as important as getting sacks. "I think it's just as important. I really enjoy it and the linebackers appreciate it. I just enjoy doing my job and I like the physical contact--splitting the double-team makes my day. I would like to get more sacks, everyone wants more sacks but I play nose so it's not as easy."
Hilliard got banged up at the end of the 2002 season and he said it was very difficult to watch the team play without him being on the field. "It was hard--especially Boston College, that one really hurt. Just watching from the sidelines and not being able to do anything about it. Even the Navy game, I was back at school watching the game with a couple of people from my dorm and that one hurt too. I was saying ‘come on guys, we've got to win.' I just felt bad because I couldn't be there to help them."
The Arlington, TX native says he went to work this summer on his body to try to get himself better prepared for the season and to stay healthy. "My lower body is a lot stronger-that's going to be key. Hopefully I don't have a reoccurring injury this year but I worked hard on my lower body to make sure that I should be ready to go."
Greg Pauly has emerged as a quality player and should give Hilliard some rest to keep him fresh all season long. Hilliard is excited for Pauly and happy to get the breather once in a while. "I think it's going to help a lot and I think it's very important," said Hilliard of Pauly's emergence. "I think if you look around the country at some of the best defensive lines, they have good depth and they can rotate. In the past, we haven't necessarily had that and you had guys playing the whole game. I think that is a big plus and I think that Greg, if he playing nose or tackle will get the job done."
Pauly's career has kind of mirrored Hilliard's. Hilliard received some playing time in 2001 and did some good things but really became a complete player in 2002. Hilliard thinks that Pauly will have a breakout year after receiving his first extensive playing time last year. "Greg has been working real hard. He definitely has the talent. He was an All-American out of high school so I think this will be the year for his breakout season."
Experience is the key to playing along the interior defensive line according to Hilliard. He says a young player can learn about technique but until he's in the battle, he won't be ready to play. "The experience is so key. It's different than what you practice out here or what you did in high school. It took me a while to actually learn that. Even my junior year, I saw a lot of time and even started a few games but it wasn't until last year that I understood what was going on and all the things an offensive lineman will throw at you."
Is there a NFL future for Hilliard? I certainly hope so," said Hilliard. "I think if I'm able to have a good season, hopefully that will happen for me. It remains to be seen."
"Big Ced" was down-playing his potential so I went for the jugular. Are you a first round pick? "(Laughs really loud) Wow, I hope so. I really hope so. I hope it's possible. I guess for a first round pick it takes someone who makes plays and has the desire to be a first round pick. I definitely have that desire I just have to go out and make the plays this year."
"Big Ced" is nasty on the field but a big teddy bear off the field. Hilliard is always smiling and he has the right attitude to be successful. He's a first round pick in my eyes and I'm betting he plays like one in 2003.