Commentary

Lattimore, Hilliard earn underclassman player of the year honors

Updated: January 15, 2009, 2:45 PM ET
By Mark Tennis | ESPNRISE.com

For the second straight season, a pair of running backs from the South have swept the national junior and sophomore player of the year honors.

Marcus Lattimore
Peter Cochran for ESPNRise.comMarcus Lattimore shined for Byrnes this season.

The ESPN RISE Junior and Sophomore Players of the Year are Marcus Lattimore from Byrnes (Duncan, S.C.) High School and Kenny Hilliard from Patterson (La.) High School, respectively.

These honors, in addition to the ESPN RISE All-American teams for juniors and sophomores, which will be released in a matter of days, are based on high school accomplishments and should not be confused with a recruiting evaluation. This is particularly true for sophomores, many of whom have yet to emerge as top players.

Lattimore, a 5-foot-11, 210-pounder with 4.46 speed in the 40, is the consensus state player of the year in South Carolina after he bolted for 2,314 yards and scored 30 touchdowns.

In a 31-21 win by Byrnes over Dorman in the state championship game, Lattimore helped his team avenge its only defeat by rushing for 305 yards and four touchdowns.

Lattimore's cutback running ability reminds some of the Carolina Panthers' DeAngelo Williams, who plays close to Byrnes in nearby Charlotte.

Lattimore, who also has a 3.3 GPA and was chosen as the South Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year, has said he's undecided about where to attend college. Whichever school lands him will be getting a combo running back who can run through tacklers up the middle, turn the corner with speed to burn or catch the ball out of the backfield.

Hilliard is even bigger than Lattimore at 6-0 and 218 pounds. Football runs in his family, as his uncle is former New Orleans Saints running back Dalton Hilliard and his cousin is current Tampa Bay Bucs wide receiver Ike Hilliard.

Kenny Hilliard was named the Class 3A Offensive Player of the Year in Louisiana. After starting as a freshman last season and rushing for more than 1,500 yards, Hilliard followed up with a sophomore season in which he piled up 2,377 yards and scored 34 touchdowns.

Check out past junior and sophomore players of the year here.

Mark Tennis is the deputy sports editor of ESPN RISE.