At 5-feet, 9-inches, T.Y. Hilton is quick, compact and confident.
The Florida International receiver, who, as a freshman, followed through on his promise to score a touchdown on his first collegiate touch, is primed for another big season as a sophomore.
And he’ll get a chance to start that campaign in front of 92,000 fans at 7 p.m. Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium when his Panthers take on the fourth-ranked Crimson Tide.
Nick Saban certainly isn’t looking past Hilton.
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“This guy, No. 4, is a better offensive player than anybody that we played against last week,” Saban said.
That’s high praise considering his Tide played Virginia Tech, which entered as the seventh-ranked team in the nation.
Since FIU was idle last week, Saban’s assessment is based on Hilton’s huge freshman campaign that included rewriting the record books for a Panther program entering its eighth season of existence.
Rivals.com rated him the eighth most explosive players in college football as the only player from outside the BCS conferences.
Hilton averaged 180.3 all-purpose yards, which put him third nationally and his 1,013 receiving yards made him the first to reach four-figures at FIU. Alabama cornerback Javier Arenas said he respects Saban’s level of concern when it comes to Hilton, and his unit takes him seriously.
“He’s dynamic and he’s real fast,” Arenas said. “From watching film, the guy is going to present a challenge. We’ve all got to bring our A-game.”
FIU’s spread passing attack allows Hilton to thrive, but it also gives Arenas a strategy to defend him. And it comes down to timing.
“You can make him one-dimensional if you can jam him up,” Arenas said. “You can take away a huge part of his game if you can jam him up — the timing is off and you have no play.”
Coming out of Miami Springs High School, Hilton was recruited by the likes of Florida, Ole Miss and South Carolina. Instead of making the leap to the Southeastern Conference, he stayed close to home and signed with FIU where he teams with quarterback Paul McCall.When he isn’t catching passes, Hilton is returning kicks. That first collegiate touch came on a 74-yard punt return for a score against Kansas. Later in the season, he returned a kickoff 90 yards for a score.