by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Showing up for Spring practice thick, ripped and far more physically stout than ever before, Chris Hilton Jr ended LSU's first losing campaign this century with a walk-off 81 yard touchdown inside Houston's NRG Stadium, catching a long bomb flea-flicker after burning Kansas State's secondary to withering ashes.
Following that one single instant, Chris Hilton Jr's 2021 freshman year wasn't all in vain:
Here we witnessed a tantalizing preview of Zachary High's former football / track champion:
The Texas Bowl's final play will be known as a reckoning for #17....the moment Hilton Jr announced himself after a long road back from surgery.
2021 wasn't kind to Chris, catching merely a pair of passes and returning a kickoff for 3 yards overall; Thanks to a knee injury forcing LSU's promising locally-bred receiver to miss all but 2 games, we weren't able to see the freshman's ultimate powers on continuous display.
On the flip side, 2022 already seems to be positive, with a strong vibe beginning to percolate around Hilton Jr.
Starting fresh with a clean slate, renewed energy, and a new Championship-proven position coach, the Tigers' sophomore WR will trust in his elite catching abilities and NASA-defying pace to build off his fast start.
Make no mistake, 2021 was a fantastic recruiting cycle for LSU wide receivers, former Tiger coaches Mickey Joseph & Ed Orgeron pulling in Jack Bech, Malik Nabers, Brian Thomas Jr, and Deion Smith in addition to Chris.
While Smith appears to have left for Ole Miss, Bech, Thomas Jr and Nabers all caught multiple touchdowns, at least 28 passes and eclipsed 350 yards each as freshmen.
With this evidence, as well as the arrival of Kyren Lacy, some might say Hilton Jr is behind the eight ball, especially when adding veteran wide out Jaray Jenkins to the mix (7 TDs and 502 yards last year)......but I disagree.
Chris Hilton Jr is a special kind of weapon, utilizing his hyper speed navigation around the edge or strong, violent running after the catch, Mike Denbrock's offense could deploy the sophomore in a variety of packages and formations.
As far as skill position Tigers, only Kayshon Boutte boasts the same kind of profile, making Hilton Jr a potential All-American if properly maximized.
Hilton Jr can be that lightning rod in the slot, you can have him come across the formation to receive jet sweeps; he is becoming dynamic in his route running; you can test the will and gumption of any defensive back on the field with his searing pace....or simply occupy or wear them down; on top of it all....he is an omnipresent deep ball threat.
Yes, there will be significant competition for reps at wide receiver, with Boutte, Bech, Malik, Thomas Jr, Lacy and Jenkins all in one room;
However, I believe Zachary High's former superstar will take the next step as a sophomore....becoming an ambitious, hungry, elite LSU Tiger in 2022.
Hilton is stronger than last season, both physically and, after what he's been through, mentally, but can he make his every touch of the ball count among LSU's crowded receiving room?
Could special teams create separation?
Hilton Jr's rare speed, slippery agility and ankle-snapping moves as a returner provide him with further opportunities to raise the roof, shatter defenders, and break ground on his solid NFL potential, opponents & onlookers only catching vapor trails from #17.
I bet you he scores on a kickoff or punt return in 2022....I bet you right now.
I'm expecting a strong 2022 from Biletnikoff-chasing Kayshon Boutte....
I believe Jack Bech will ascend to an even higher All-American stature on this team....
Malik Nabers was an All-SEC selection as a freshman and is poised to devour more real estate this fall.....
.....Yet, outside of those three proven Tiger WRs, there are starting reps to be won among Hilton Jr, Lacy, Jenkins and Thomas Jr.
After a curtailed debut campaign, I am excited to watch Chris Hilton Jr's development in year two, all as he adjusts to Cortez Hankton / Brian Kelly's coaching and competes for catches alongside LSU's chrome-plated 2022 wide receiving crew.
By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
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