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MIAC Profiles of Excellence: Jeffrey Hilliard, University of St. Thomas

floated rightby Rich Mies, CSN Mapping the MIAC Columnist

“You must give some time to your fellow men. Even if it’s a little thing, do something for others - something for which you get no pay but the privilege of doing it.” -Albert Schweitzer, French physician and philosopher

For most people, Schweitzer’s words are a noble thought and serve as an inspirational goal. For Jeffrey Hilliard of the University of St. Thomas football team, they are more than an ideal; they are a way to live. He has selflessly given countless hours of time to a wide range of community service organizations, while starting for four years as a cornerback and maintaining a stellar grade point average. He epitomizes the balance of athletics, academics and giving back to the world around him that the MIAC strives to promote.

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floated leftBecause of this, Jeffrey was named to the 2009 Allstate Good Works Team, co-sponsored by the American Football Coaches Association. He is one of 22 college football players recognized for outstanding community and campus service.

“The most refreshing thing about Jeffrey is his sense of humility,” said UST coach Glenn Caruso. “He realizes you can be a great football player but you can also parlay that into something tremendous. He is a guy who really has things figured out. He is right in front of it whenever we do anything volunteer-wise as a team. He gets it. He understands that it’s not all about him but that it is about the greater good.”

Jeffrey finds time to be involved in a wide array of campus activities. He has been an active member of the UST chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes since its inception his sophomore year. Jeffrey has participated in the Race For A Cure, which raised money for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, and he has taken part in the South St. Paul Relay For Life, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.

He has been involved in the annual Christmas party for children of faculty and staff at St. Thomas each of the last three years and is looking forward to being part of this December’s festivities. He has been a student volunteer at home track and field meets.

Jeffrey has been part of the St. Thomas Student Athletic Advisory Committee, representing the football team. SAAC promotes the support of Tommie athletics and encourages attendance at home games and events. “We also did a drive for a neighborhood food shelf with the SAAC at Macalester,” said Jeffrey. “We conduct a Toys For Teens drive in December along with all the SAACs in the MIAC. We’ve been active in Hoop A Thon, a fundraiser for Huntington’s Disease research, as well as doing fundraising for a number of charitable organizations.”

In addition, Jeffrey was a volunteer tutor at the Paul Wellstone International High School in the fall of his sophomore year and helped at Feed My Starving Children, packaging meals to be sent to children in Third World nations. He found time to participate in Up Till Dawn, an annual fundraiser at UST for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

Since his sophomore year, Jeffrey also has hosted various prospective student-athletes on overnight stays and helps in giving them tours of the campus and facilities.

Jeffrey’s sense of giving started long before he enrolled at St. Thomas. “He is a very, very disciplined young man,” said Coach Caruso. “He comes from a very, very strong family.”

His upbringing is a key factor in not only Jeffrey’s sense of community but also that of his older brother, Andrew. He preceded Jeffrey at St. Thomas and also was named to the All Good Works Team. The Hilliards are the fifth set of brothers to both be named to the All Good Works team, joining John and Jeff Kaiser and Paul and Pat Sommerstad of St. Thomas, a pair from the University of Georgia and Peyton and Eli Manning.

Growing up, Jeffrey and Andrew were taught to give of their time and abilities. While in high school, Jeffrey was active in his church as an usher, an acolyte, an assistant Sunday school teacher and as a Bible School leader.

He was involved in his hometown of Woodbury, as he was involved in Environment/Recycling Day, the local food shelf and helped with cleanup after numerous community events. Jeffrey volunteered at the Red Cross Blood Drive, Second Harvest Food Shelf and participated in the Woodbury Relay For Life. He also volunteered with the Woodbury Athletic Association in varying roles.

Jeffrey helped out with Donate-A-Phone, an effort that collected used cell phones that were put to use by a battered women’s shelter. He pitched in with The Caring Tree, where he helped collect school supplies for students in need. He was active in the Newport Parks and Recreation’s Read & Lead program.

While in high school, Jeffrey volunteered as a math tutor for fellow high school students and with a local fifth grade classroom.

At Woodbury High, Jeffrey played football and baseball. “I played basketball until my sophomore year, but gave it up to focus on the other two sports,” he said.

On the diamond, Jeffrey was a second baseman. He played on the freshman team as a ninth-grader, the sophomore team the following year and the JV his junior year. He took over as the starting second sacker his senior season and was named to the All-Conference Team. “We had a really good class the year ahead of me, finishing second in the state,” said Jeffrey. “My senior year, we lost in the first round of the playoffs. We were talented but very young. I was one of the few seniors on the team.”

In each of Jeffrey’s four years of football at Woodbury, he had a different coach. After playing on the freshman team his frosh year and the JV the next fall, Jeffrey moved into the Royals’ starting secondary. He also handled punt return duties. “We were only 3-5 on the regular season, but got hot in the playoffs,” Jeffrey recalled. “We made it to the semifinals of the State Class 5A tourney, losing to Wayzata, 26-7.”

His senior year, Jeffrey played wide receiver as well as cornerback and punt return specialist. With a new coach and new philosophy, the Royals struggled and finished 1-8. Jeffrey was named All-Conference Honorable Mention.

Jeffrey was the recipient of the Royal Award in both sports his senior year. The award is given to the senior on the team who shows leadership, sportsmanship and integrity, exemplifying the characteristics for which Woodbury High athletics strives.

Outside of athletics, Jeffrey was a member of the Student Council all four years, as well as a member of the National Honor Society. He was part of the Homecoming Court his senior year.

Coming out of high school, Jeffrey was contacted by many of the Division III schools in the area, mostly for football. He mainly looked at Saint John’s and St. Thomas. “They both recruited me heavily,” he said. “Ultimately, Andrew’s successes and experiences at St. Thomas weighed my decision.”

floated rightJeffrey has been a key part of the UST football team since his first days on campus. He has started at cornerback for the Tommies since the first game of freshman year, missing only one game due to illness in his junior year. He was named All-MIAC Honorable Mention as a freshman, helping UST post a 5-3 record in MIAC play and 6-4 overall. Jeffrey had a pair of interceptions, five pass breakups, and 44 tackles, 34 of which were solo.

The Tommies slumped to 2-6 in conference play in Jeffrey’s sophomore year, and 2-8 overall. Jeffrey was named All-MIAC Honorable Mention, as he was one of the few bright spots for UST. He recorded 43 tackles, three interceptions and three blocked kicks.

Following the season, Coach Don Roney resigned. Caruso, who was appreciative of Jeffrey’s role during the transition, replaced him. “He is a real stalwart, on board from Day One,” the coach stated. “He kept things solid throughout the transition. Jeffrey has a mental toughness that is so strong, he is going to be a success no matter who is the coach, but he helped make things go smooth when we took over.”

Last fall, Jeffrey played a key role in the Tommies’ turnaround to a 7-3 finish. They were 5-3 in conference play and tied for second place. Jeffrey had 34 tackles, two blocked kicks and two pass breakups and was named to the MIAC All-Sportsmanship Team.

This year, the Tommies are 4-1 in league play and 5-1 overall. They are tied for second place in the conference. Jeffrey has played a big part in the strong play by the defense. He has 24 tackles, one blocked kick and two pass breakups. The Tommies lone loss was an overtime defeat at the hands of Saint John’s. In that game, Jeffrey suffered a concussion. He is hopeful of returning to the field to help UST in its drive for a spot in the NCAA Division III playoffs.

Jeffrey is a true leader on the team. “The way he carries himself and the fact that he checks his ego at the door make him a great leader,” said Caruso. “That is why a lot of the guys look up to him, younger players especially. They see a kid with tremendous athletic ability and a sense of duty.”

Academically, Jeffrey is a double major in Mathematics and Psychology. He sports a 3.70 GPA and will graduate this spring. He is a member of Delta Epsilon Sigma, the national scholastic honor society.

Jeffrey is weighing his options for after graduation. “I might go on to graduate school in either Math or Psychology,” he said. “I’m considering working as a school psychologist, working with any and all ages. I am giving thought to possibly getting a job with the FBI. There are a lot of options.”

For Jeffrey, St. Thomas has been “a place where I can balance academics and athletics and still be able to surround myself with some of the most influential people I can imagine,” he said. “Being here has made me the person I am. St. Thomas reaffirmed the values my parents taught me.”

“Jeffrey is not only a great football player but his character supersedes his ability on the field,” said Coach Caruso. “He is everything you want in a football player. As trite as it is to say, if you could have 24 guys like him, your team would be in pretty good shape. He will be a success in whatever he does after college because of who he is and the strength of his character.”

[The photos are courtesy of the University of St. Thomas Sports Information office.]

The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) is widely respected as one of the premier conferences in nearly every sport competed in Division III. Year after year, the MIAC produces teams and individual student-athletes who excel in their given sport. At the same time, the MIAC schools maintain a reputation of commitment to academic excellence. This article is one in a series of spotlights on some of the young men and women who represent the league’s commitment to excellence, both in the classroom and athletics during the 2008-09 academic year.

This feature will be included in the “Profiles of Excellence 2009-2010″ book which will be available for order at RDM Publishing. It will feature profiles of student-athletes from the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, written by CSN’s “Mapping the MIAC” columnist Rich Mies.