Friday, March 11, 2011
Non-AQ Top 25 Players: No. 7
By Andrea Adelson
Only one freshman made this list, and he is right here at No. 7. I bet many of you will wonder why he is ranked so high. There are a few reasons. First, he was the best true freshman running back in the country, statistically speaking (yes, better than Marcus Lattimore). Second, his play essentially turned around the fortunes of a program that had not been to a bowl game since 1998. Third, he never shrank from the pressure or the comparisons to the most famous alum in school history. Why should he anyway -- he was born Sept. 14, 1991, the same day NFL Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk ran for 386 yards and seven touchdowns in a win over Pacific, in his just second game as a true freshman.
Ronnie Hillman rushed for 1,532 yards and 17 touchdowns on his way to being named the Mountain West's top freshman.
To understand just how much Hillman meant to the Aztecs in 2010, go back to 2009. Ryan Lindley was on the team. So were Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson. But the running game was nonexistent, and that was a huge problem for a team that installed a pro-style offense that would ideally rely on play action. The Aztecs ranked No. 116 in the nation in rushing offense, averaging 2.87 yards per carry. They scored eight rushing touchdowns all season. But help was on the way in the form of Hillman, who had to withdraw from school in the fall of 2009 because of questions about his SAT score. When he finally got the score he needed, he returned and the expectations of improving the run offense were placed on his shoulders. He more than delivered, running for 1,532 yards -- second in school history behind Faulk for a freshman season. He ranked No. 10 in the nation in rushing, tops among all freshmen. Hillman added 17 touchdowns, and was the only running back in the Mountain West to average more than 100 yards a game. All that earned him conference Freshman of the Year honors. With his ability to run, the offense worked the way it was intended to, ranking No. 16 in the nation. San Diego State ended up winning its bowl game for a 9-4 season, its best finish in over a decade.