Lex Hilliard has taken up cycling. Twice a day.
Hopefully it gets him into the NFL.
Hilliard, the bruising running back who shattered records at Flathead High School and the University of Montana, is in Indianapolis training for February’s NFL Scouting Combine, an invitation-only camp where pro coaches and scouts get a look at potential incoming talent. Following surgery on his injured left shoulder on Dec. 4, Hilliard began a stationary cycling regimen to replace running. Sprinting involves vigorously pumping his shoulder, so he’s avoiding it for now.
But he’s staying plenty busy without running.
“I’m training seven days a week, eight hours a day,” Hilliard said from Indianapolis. “It’s like a full-time job. All the hard work is now, so when the combine comes, it’s easy.”
In November, Hilliard finished his remarkable career at UM as the school record holder in rushing touchdowns, total touchdowns and carries, coming up short of the total rushing record by only 54 yards. His college performance was impressive enough to peak the interest of NFL scouts and agents, including some who have contacted him for years and others who wrote him text messages the night immediately after his final college game.
For agents, Hilliard and his parents decided on Harold Lewis and Mark Lillibridge out of St. Louis, who represent 23 current NFL players, Hilliard said. The coice, said Hilliard’s dad Elvis, was “the hardest decision I’ve ever seen my son have to make in his whole life.”
The search for an agent became top priority in mid-December when Hilliard’s parents received two letters from the NFL at their Kalispell house: one inviting Hilliard to the combine and one inviting him to the NFL Draft. Elvis said he read them to his son over the phone.
“It was overwhelming to see them,” Elvis said. “The pages were in color and with the NFL (logo) on them and they had the signature of the (vice) president of the NFL. It was pretty impressive.”
Elvis said he is grateful that the NFL maintained such a high level of interest after his son endured an injury-plagued senior season and dropped out of the running for the Walter Payton Award, given to the Football Championship Subdivision’s best player. He’s also impressed that his son got a letter to the draft even before making an appearance at the combine, a significant gesture from the NFL.
For Elvis – who used to train his son by having their pet German Shepherd nip at his heels while he ran to teach him to juke – the letters represent both the culmination of years of Hilliard’s hard work and the opportunity to show his full potential on the grandest of football stages.
“Hopefully in the NFL he’ll be able to find a coach who can coach his raw ability, because he has talent that hasn’t been unleashed yet,” Elvis said. “That’s what I’m most excited about with him going to the next level. I think that’s where he belongs.”
The NFL Combine, held between Feb. 20 and 26 this year, is a talent showcase that takes place every year in Indianapolis in February. Players do drills and exercises for NFL scouts, coaches and personnel. Among the exercises are the bench press, standing long jump and the 40-yard dash. Hilliard won’t do the bench press because of his shoulder, but he’s hoping for at least 10 feet in the standing long jump and a time under his previous best of 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
“I’m hoping to squeeze off that 4.4,” the 235-pound Hilliard said.
There are six other ex-college players training at the St. Vincent Sports Performance Center in Indianapolis, Hilliard said, including Kroy Biermann, the standout defensive end who capped off his college career with Hilliard at UM by winning the Buck Buchanan Award as the Football Championship Subdivision’s best defensive player. Biermann is a Hardin native. St. Vincent’s offers one of several pre-combine training programs in the country. Hilliard said he is considering transferring to another program in Los Angeles later in the month, but no matter if he stays or transfers, he said will be training everyday up until the day of the combine.
Hilliard said he doesn’t care what team pursues him. He’s just happy to have the opportunity to play in the NFL, an opportunity he doesn’t take for granted.
“I just want to say thank you to my mom and dad and family and the fan support back in Kalispell, Missoula, all throughout Montana,” he said. “Without them I couldn’t be here.”
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