Print and Go Back ESPN.com: On The Trail: West Region [Print without images]

Friday, April 5, 2013
Top five emerging for RB Hilliman

By Jared Shanker

A top 10 has emerged for touted running back Jonathan Hilliman (Jersey City, N.J./St. Peter’s Prep), and now some separation is starting to take place among those schools.

“The top five has definitely broken apart but not severely far,” Hilliman said. “I’m not counting out the other schools, depending on what they bring to the table -- if it's academics or great environment or great coaching staff.”

Those five, in order, are Ohio State, Michigan, Alabama, Rutgers and Stanford. The next five is made up of Georgia, Oregon, Boston College, Arkansas and Vanderbilt.

The Buckeyes and Wolverines find themselves at the top of the list because they are showing the 6-foot-1, 202-pound running back the most attention.

“Urban Meyer came to my school just to see me and talked briefly about how they feel about me,” Hilliman said. “I got the head coach coming out to see me, so it shows how important you are to the program. That stuck out to me about Ohio State.”

On top of the interest, Hilliman laid out several key components as to why the Wolverines find themselves at No. 2 on his list.

“They’re an outstanding academic school, one of the top in all the world in academics, which is pretty impressive,” he said. “Everyone knows about Michigan football tradition and the great staff. They had a big recruiting class coming in. Getting down to Ann Arbor will be most important.”

Alabama found its way onto Hilliman’s list after just recently offering. The Tide showed interest in Hilliman for several weeks before finally pulling the trigger at the end of March. Hilliman talked with new offensive line coach Mario Cristobal, who first watched Hilliman’s tape. He then passed it to the running backs coach and then Nick Saban.

Hilliman’s blend of power and speed was what sold the Tide coaches on offering, Hilliman said.

While he is obviously excited to get an offer from the two-time reigning national champions, Hilliman said it is more than the dynasty in Tuscaloosa that intrigues him about Alabama.

"Everybody knows about their dominant football tradition, but what stood out to me was how their academics are. They have very, very good academics, a lot better than I initially thought,” Hilliman said. “The coaches are very genuine. They’re very real with how they speak to and approach recruits. They tell them pretty much the real deal, and I really can respect that."

The running game at Georgia, which sits at No. 6 on Hilliman’s list, has always been the focus of the offense, and Hilliman likes how two freshmen came into the backfield in 2012 and rushed for big numbers.

“Great running backs come out of there and make significant marks,” Hilliman said. “They always have a very good offensive line.”

Most of the teams on Hilliman’s list are pro-style programs. Oregon, clearly, is not. Hilliman is OK with the Oregon system, however, pointing to the Ducks finishing fourth in the country in rushing in 2012 -- behind only triple-option teams Army, Georgia Tech and Air Force -- but No. 1 nationally in yards per carry.

“They run the ball, do a lot of plays and they set the running backs up so they don’t take a pounding,” he said. “There’s a lot of movement on fast-pitch plays and I can get adjusted to that.”

Hilliman’s top group is not a final 10, and he says Miami (Fla.) and North Carolina are two programs still in the running.