Peyton Hillis Gets Real About Houston Nutt

-Tommy Foltz

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Drew Morgan’s “Tell it like it is [when it suits him]” personality. Turns out, though, the real “Tell it like it is” guy is Peyton Hillis.  His recent interview GASN Sports makes that abundantly clear:.

HILLIS:

In the early 2000s, Peyton Hillis was already a local legend before he ever put on a Razorback uniform.  He tore up Arkansas high school football coming out of Conway High School and part of his training included pushing, or pulling, automobiles up and down the street.  He said “back then, there was only one place to go and it was Arkansas……being a Razorback was like winning the Super Bowl.”

He was clearly a player who walked on campus ready to go and play SEC ball for then head coach Houston Nutt.  Hillis did not disappoint:

—Freshman Year:  10 games — 8 TDs (6 rushing, 2 receiving)

But then, things changed.  He was gobbled up by a two-headed monster named D-Mac and Felix.  They got most of the snaps going forward and they made a lot out of those opportunities.  Hillis was left between a rock and a hard place.  He was a player who clearly needed to be on the field, and probably would’ve started on most other SEC teams, but who simply was not as good as McFadden or Jones when it came to moving the chains.

“I had issues with Coach Nutt, and was kind of a utility guy, playing a little bit of everything. Never really found myself to what my skillset was or what they really used me for.”

“Looking back on it, if I knew then what I do now, things would’ve changed” when it came to his eventual college destination. Because there are a lot of things you should look at when you go to a college as far as “What offensive scheme are they running that best suits your skills?” “Who is the coaching staff, can you relate with them?”

THE UTILITY MAN:

Anyone with a brain the size of a pea could tell you that he needed to be on the field — somewhere.  It turned out to be everywhere.  Even Houston Dale Nutt recognized this and Hillis ended up returning punts, kick-offs and being a reliable — some would say “bone crushing” — blocker for Darren McFadden and Felix Jones.  Yet, he still excelled as a traditional back:  

—Sophomore Year:  3 rushing TDs — 4 receiving TDs — 16 punt returns with an average of 10.3 yards per return and 3 kick-off returns for an average of 21.7 yards per return.

—Junior Year:  4.4 yards per carry, but with only 1 TD.  11.5 yards per punt return and 18.0 on kick returns.

—Senior Year:  5.6 per carry — 2 rushing TDs — 49 receptions for 5 TDs. Didn’t return kicks and punts.

In the end, Hillis seems torn on the way he feels about his time as a Hog.

“Coach Nutt, overall, I think he is a great man. I think that he had a great heart,” he said.”

“I do think that he kind of let things get away from him at the end, because of all the pressure with the Mitch Mustain and Gus Malzahn coming in during that time — to where there was a power struggle and it kind of separated the team from Coach Nutt’s side to Coach Malzahn’s side. And that really hurt the team during that time.”

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Here’s a special news segment about the one season Nutt and Malzahn coached together:

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IT’S ALSO IMPORTANT TO BE HONEST:

As Winston Churchill once noted:  “It’s important to be honest, but it’s also important to be right.”

The good thing about Hillis is that his honesty is rooted in the truth.  He was there.  We weren’t.  In his interview, he not only admitted D-Mac and Jones were better than him, but took it a step further and complimented his former teammates as “two of the greatest to ever play the game, at least on the college level.”

He also talked about how the team:

—Was split over the Springdale Mafia (my characterization, not his) deal. 

—“We never really had a quarterback.” That’s gotta give Casey Dick a warm and fuzzy.

He continued: “I really think if we had a quarterback, like Matt Jones, the previous two years before that, oh man, I think that we could have won the national championship for sure.”

—“We haven’t had an above average QB since Ryan Mallett.” Same warm and fuzzy for Brandon and Austin Allen.

—For the coaches:  For the coaches between Nutt and Sam Pittman, he didn’t mention names other than Sam Pittman. But he said too much money was being paid to coaches who nobody knows.

He continued: “They’re not going back to the roots, they’re not getting any Arkansas guys that actually care about the university, not bringing in coaches that have ties.”

HERE’S THE SHOCKER:

Hillis said he has “heard” great things about Sam Pittman.  That’s good.  We’ve ALL heard great things about Pittman.  But, I would have expected him to say, “I met him and I believe in what he’s doing.”

Hillis lives in Springdale.  He probably doesn’t live more than 30 minutes from Reynolds Razorback Stadium, but “they (whoever they are) won’t let me in the door to meet him.”

What?

This is a far cry from Pittman’s stated desire to get former players involved with the program.  It’s part of the reason Hillis feels, essentially forgotten. He does not necessarily see the Razorbacks as part of his identity.

It’s a shame because he was a warrior as a Hog.  At a minimum, he’s earned the right to at least tell Pittman he’s pulling for him. 

All of this information comes within days of a decommitment by Parkview’s Landon Rogers (QB, 6’5” 215; 19 TDs/2 INTs, 1,661 yards passing 584 yards rushing).

Does all this mean there’s a chink in the armor of Pittman’s impressive recruiting ?  I don’t think so.

It’s always unfortunate to see a decommit.  But Landon Rogers knows dual-threat dynamo quarterbacks Malik Hornsby and Lucas Coley are on their way to Fayetteville, and KJ Jefferson is already there.  Even though he may not even know who Peyton Hillis is, rest assured Rogers didn’t want to end up in the same boat as Hillis had he made it to the Hill.

See the interview here:

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