Jonathan Hilliman played high school football in Jersey City for St. Peter’s Prep and left a legacy of greatness.
At Grand and Warren, Hilliman set the school’s single season rushing record in 2013, becoming the first Marauder running back to eclipse the 2,000-yard plateau, collecting 2,007 yards and scoring 31 touchdowns.
That year, Hilliman was named both The Hudson Reporter Offensive Player of the Year and the Reporter Most Valuable Player. Hilliman played on the same Prep team with future stars Brandon Wimbush (former Notre Dame quarterback who will complete his college career this fall at Central Florida), Minkah Fitzpatrick (the former Alabama All-American who is in his second season as a defensive back with the Miami Dolphins) and Corey Caddle (the Fordham wide receiver who earned The Hudson Reporter Male Athlete of the Year in 2015).
Hilliman earned Hudson Reporter High School Football All-Area honors in both 2012 and 2013.
Hilliman started his collegiate career at Boston College and ended as a graduate student at Rutgers, where he initially committed, before heading back to Boston College.
But Hilliman wasn’t fully healthy during his year at Rutgers, collecting 337 yards and scoring six touchdowns. The Scarlet Knights were dreadful, posting a 1-11 record. Their woeful campaign limited Hilliman’s chances of being noticed by professional scouts, but there was one team that interested in him – the New York Giants.
While Hilliman was not selected in the National Football League draft in April, the speedy back was told by the Giants that they had him on their radar for a free agent contract.
“I’ve always been a Giants fan,” Hilliman said. “I came here to visit and worked out here. I dreamed of playing here.”
Hilliman cut a day of school at Prep to attend the Giants’ parade and festivities after the Giants defeated the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. It’s safe to say Hilliman was not acting alone that day.
Hilliman signed a three-year free agent deal that kicks in if he makes the team. He made it through all the free agent rookie workouts and earned an invitation to training camp.
He’s made his presence felt in the Giants’ training camp that continues for one more week.
Hilliman is battling for playing time with the other Giants running backs like
Wayne Gallman, Rod Smith, Paul Perkins and Eli Penny for a spot on the team’s final 53-man roster that will be announced Aug. 31.Hilliman’s chances of making the roster are remote.
“I know that there’s still work to be done,” Hilliman said. “I can only control what I can control and how hard I play.”
In a recent Giants 32-13 win over Chicago, Hilliman was the Giants’ leading rusher, collecting 56 yards on 16 carries. He also scored his first professional touchdown with an impressive 10-yard jaunt up the middle, bolting through the line and scooting untouched into the end zone.
In the excitement of the play, Hilliman somehow tossed the football aside.
Giants’ All-Pro running back Saquon Barkley retrieved the ball for Hilliman to keep forever.
Last Sunday, on the first day of practice after the game, Barkley walked by Hilliman as he was being interviewed and exclaimed, “This is the man right here.”
Hilliman said that it’s been a blessing to be in the same backfield with Barkley.
“Any time you have a superstar with you, it gives added attention to the running back room,” Hilliman said. “Saquon’s helps to show everyone how talented we are as a group. I’m excited to compete with him and the others. It can only help me to get better.”
Hilliman didn’t have any illusions about making the Giants’ final roster.
“As the weeks have gone on, I really didn’t have any expectations,” Hilliman said. “I just wanted to keep my shoulders down and go to work. If my number gets called, I will run hard.”
Hilliman ran hard in his first preseason action, catching two passes out of the backfield for 16 yards against the Jets. On the second catch and subsequent tackle, Hilliman was diagnosed with a concussion, which could have ended all hope of making the team.
“I really didn’t get down on myself,” Hilliman said. “I knew it was sort of a test for me, like a curveball.”
Hilliman spent only three days on the sidelines with the concussion protocol.
“I did what the doctors said,” Hilliman said. I felt fine. I didn’t have any symptoms in the light.”
He was cleared to play against the Bears and made the most of it.
“It was kind of surreal, getting a chance to play in front of my friends and family,” Hilliman said. “I was wearing the colors of the team I grew up loving. That hit me as I was running out of the tunnel [before the game]. I just wanted to put my best foot forward.”
Hilliman was pleased with his performance.
“It was on national TV with a lot of people watching,” Hilliman said. “I had no idea how many times I was going to carry the ball, no heads-up about playing time. The coaches always tell me to go hard and protect the ball, so that’s what I did.”
If the Giants release Hilliman, he’s prepared to move on.
“I will just go about my business,” Hilliman said. “I want everyone to have a job, but I know that’s not realistic. My main focus is to make this club and I’m going to do my best to make that happen.”
Hilliman could end up on the Giants’ practice squad after the final cuts are made. If that’s the case, then he remains with the team, receives a salary, and continues to hope for a chance to play with the big club.
If Hilliman becomes a member of the Giants after training camp, he will have one former Marauder who also played at Rutgers.
Savon Huggins was a highly regarded running back coming out of Grand and Warren. Huggins was even more celebrated than Hilliman coming out of Prep, winning the Gatorade Player of the Year for New Jersey and earning All-America status from Parade Magazine.
Huggins, now an assistant coach at Prep, worked with Hilliman in high school. The two have continued their close relationship through college and beyond.
“Savon has been instrumental in my career,” Hilliman said. “He’s played a significant part of why I’m here. When I was a freshman and he was a senior [at St. Peter’s Prep], Savon pulled me aside and showed me how to do things the right way. We still work out together and talk all the time. He’s my everything.”
Hilliman can repay Huggins if and when Hilliman becomes a true member of the New York Giants. Hilliman is already proud to be a New York Giant.