It never gets old, quite frankly, to talk about the underdogs who take an opportunity and run with it. We all spend a good deal of time on the late-round picks and undrafted players who made their way up to starters, or possibly even more. Part of it surely is the relatability, but they also usually have a commonality to them, which is a relentless drive to overcome and a passion to do so.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have several of them on their roster, such as offensive linemen Ramon Foster and Alejandro Villanueva. Antonio Brown, of course, went from a sixth-round pick to the best wide receiver in the game. Then there’s Roosevelt Nix, who made a career out of running into people.
But Mike Hilton’s story somehow seems to resonate the most out of all, especially when you factor out the non-football equation. Hilton, an undrafted free agent who was cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars and spent about a week on the New England Patriots’ practice squad, was a darkhorse entering last season and almost overnight became one of the Steelers’ best defensive players.
“Mike’s story is probably reflective of a lot of stories”, Head Coach Mike Tomlin said of his young nickel cornerback yesterday during his pre-game press conference. “Mike just works hard every day and takes advantage of the opportunities given. And when he does, we give him more. He wants to be a central reason why we’re successful, and he’s anteing up and kicking in daily”.
Hilton’s most endearing feature on the field is the fact that while he plays arguably the least physical position on the defensive side of the ball, he is one of the most physical players on the team, relishing contact in every aspect of the job, whether it is in press coverage, rushing the quarterback, or blowing up a running back.
Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns was yet another example of what he has been doing for the past season and a half, registering a pair of defensive stops as well as a key pass defensed, though one thing he didn’t have was success blitzing.
One of the biggest issues that the Steelers have had so far this year has been being able to make plays on the football when the ball is in the air. Hilton and Joe Haden have pretty much been the only defensive backs doing that consistently. The former has five passes defensed and an interception in six games played.
You can tell by the way that he carries himself on the field that he is playing with a lot of confidence now after being able to prove himself last year. Surely that helps a number of fans see themselves in him, living out their own football dreams that such a small percentage of people ever get to experience.