Jets pawn future on fullback Hilliard

Lex Hilliard played for Tony Sparano on the Dolphins last season.
TOM SZCZERBOWSKI/GETTY IMAGES

Somewhere on a highway in Montana, newly signed Jets fullback Lex Hilliard got a text message from his agent, telling him that the Jets were showing interest. Hilliard was in a pickup truck with a friend of his, heading off to the hardware store to buy some drywall for a remodeling project.

Hilliard, who grew up in Montana and played his college football at the University of Montana before spending three years in Miami and two games this season in New England, was surprised by the text. Still on his way to the hardware store, Hilliard received a call from the Jets a few minutes later, saying they wished to sign him. On Wednesday, Hilliard completed his first practice with his new team.

“I’ve been playing the Jets for the last four years and the Jets are a tough opponent to go against. I’m proud to be a part of that now,” Hilliard told Metro. “To have that name on my back, I’m excited about it. We’re going to keep this going; we’re going to find a way to make it work.”

The need to get Hilliard on the 53-man roster stems largely from John Conner’s questionable health. A knee injury sidelined him for the Jets’ Week 3 overtime win in Miami and he left midway through Sunday’s blowout loss to San Francisco with a hamstring injury, likely the result of overcompensating for his knee. In his third year with the Jets, the former fifth-round pick was supposed to be the Jets’ long-term answer at fullback but injuries and disappointing play has cast doubts on Conner’s future with the team.

Hilliard, who played for offensive coordinator Tony Sparano when he was the head coach of the Dolphins, is willing to take the risk of trying to supplant Conner as the Jets’ starting fullback.

“You never know, you come in here and do the best of your abilities and hopefully it turns into a long-term thing,” Hilliard said. “I come in, give it my best and hope that it works out well for both sides.”

He has a reputation as a hard worker, which is a major reason Sparano brought him into an offense that has lacked physicality in the ground game. He calls himself a “lunch pail” player who takes pride in doing hard work — whatever is needed to get the job done. Hilliard will never sell himself short in his quest to get better. Literally.

Nine months ago, Hilliard started his own pawn shop, his first ever business venture. The End of the Trail Trading Post in Kalispell, Mont. is owned by Hilliard, carrying on a family tradition. Growing up, Hilliard’s father owned his own pawn shop by the same name which he sold when Ike was 12 years old.

Now Hilliard is having a go at the family business again.

“It is a good way for people who may not have access to a line of credit to be able to get money or sell something,” Hilliard said. “But I let my employees determine the value and worth of something. I’m such a softy that if I heard a sob story, I’d likely overpay.”

Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.


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