Too many times in his college football career, Ohio State fifth-year senior linebacker Justin Hilliard has had to leave the field of play due to injury.
His first two seasons as a Buckeye saw him in more hospital blues than Scarlet and Gray.
The last three seasons, however, have been his healthiest, and that’s even with him tearing his Achilles tendon back in the spring.
Because of the injuries, many have wondered if he would apply for a sixth year and if it would then be granted by the NCAA. Last week, Hilliard revealed the big news.
“Yeah, there’s been an answer back. It has been approved,” he said.
The plan is for him to return to Ohio State, but both Hilliard and head coach Ryan Day have said discussions need to take place first. He called his upcoming decision “football-based,” but declined to go much further into depth than that.
“That’s the plan. I mean, we still have to have some important talks,” Hilliard said. “But yeah, that’s the plan. It has been approved.”
Hilliard actually found out a few weeks ago. Ohio State compliance told him, then he texted a group chat with his parents to give them the good news. The phone calls rained in after that.
The process of applying only took a day or so, but waiting for a response was the hard part. Hilliard’s case was obviously a good one, but you just never know when it comes to the NCAA and their decision makers.
“It was a weird process just dealing with the NCAA. With those cases, it’s kind of case by case,” Hilliard explained.
“It was kind of just telling my story. Telling them I got redshirted my freshman year, telling them I tore my left bicep, torn right bicep, tore my left bicep again, torn meniscus, tore my Achilles, which I think totaled up to 24 months of rehab. So when it was all said and done, they chose to give me another year.”
Hilliard has spent most of the previous two seasons contributing on special teams, but this year he has been featured in Ohio State’s four-linebacker lineup, which has shown up in almost every game this season. With more linebackers on the field, Hilliard has received more playing time on defense than any other time in his career.
He has a career-high three tackles for loss to go with his 12 total tackles.
“We actually started doing that a little bit in spring, kind of implemented it, but you just never know,” he said of four-linebacker lineups. “We do a bunch of different stuff in spring, so you never know what sticks.”
Needless to say, he’s a fan of the four-linebacker look and is hoping they can finish the season just as effectively as they began it.
“Oh yeah, absolutely,” he said. “All the boys. I mean, that’s the unit we trained with. Those are the guys we’re always around and the more of us the better.”