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Hilton making early impact

It took a few games, but freshman Mike Hilton is stepping up on the Ole Miss defense, as he got his first start last weekend. Hilton is one of many young guys making an impact for the Rebels this season.
Thomas Granning/The Daily Mississippian

Already extremely young on the defensive side of the football, Ole Miss added another true freshman to the mix when the Rebel defense took the field for the first time against Texas A&M.

Defensive back Mike Hilton made the first start of his young career at the huskie position and received his first extensive playing time as well.

Hilton made the most of his opportunity, recording three tackles and two sacks while being tasked with keeping an eye on Aggie quarterback Johnny Manziel. Hilton thinks his play Saturday will help keep him on the field going forward.

“They put me out there for a reason," he said. "I just made the best of my chance and made a couple plays. Got a couple down plays, but that’s part of the game.”

The key now is to put those down plays behind him and learn from them instead of letting them linger going forward.

“It’s going to take time, but as a (defensive back), you’ve got to have a short memory because you can’t let one play go into the next game and affect your play. You’ve just got to let it go,” Hilton said. “Games go up and down, you make plays, get beat. You’ve got to let it go and play the next game.”

Up and down play from his freshmen is something that Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze knows is going to happen, but overall he was pleased with how the Sandy Creek, Ga., native played in his first start.

“He played really well for a true freshman being thrown in his first significant snaps of a game like that. He made some key plays and got beat a few times,” Freeze said. "That’s kind of who we are right now with the young kids. That’s going to happen at times.”

Hilton and the Rebels are now tasked with moving on from the close loss against Texas A&M and getting that elusive Southeastern Conference win to end a 16-game conference losing streak.

Like other Rebel players have voiced this week, Hilton is tired of being congratulated for being competitive.

"Yeah, we get tired of everyone coming up to us and saying, ‘You played a good game, good job,’” he said. “We want everyone to respect us in the SEC and to let them know that we’re coming.”

As Hilton continues to gain experience, he knows that there will be bumps in the road that come with playing in the SEC.

Knowing that, the fact that Freeze is willing to put his confidence in a large group of freshman defenders isn’t lost on Hilton.

“It really helps because we’re young,” Hilton said. “We’re still adapting to the game, but having our head coach saying he’s real confident with a freshman coming in and playing, that just makes us feel a little better.”

What helps Hilton is that he possesses something that the Rebels are badly looking to add in future recruiting classes, which is speed. A former high school running back, Hilton has impressed Freeze with his quickness on the field.

“I’m very confident in Mike. I think he’s going to be a really good player,” Freeze said. “He’s a tough kid — hard-nosed and can run. You need as many of those as you can find.”

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