New Giants running back Peyton Hillis never thought his once successful NFL career would come crashing down around him.
When it did, he learned one of life’s most valuable lessons: It’s a long fall down from the top.
Such was the case for the 27-year old Hillis, a seventh round draft pick of the Denver Broncos in 2008. After failing to find a niche with the Broncos, Hillis was traded to the Cleveland Browns just before the 2010 season.
That year, Hillis had a breakout season, rushing for 1,177 yards on 270 carries with 11 touchdowns.
With the weekly accolades piling up and his star continuing to rise, Hillis snagged the cover of Madden ’12, which he won thanks to a nationwide fan vote.
From there, however, Hillis’ career went sour very quickly, his production dropping in 2011 to 587 yards on 161 carries and three touchdowns.
After a year in Kansas City where his numbers dropped even further, Hillis went to the Bucs where he was for the first three games of the 2013 season before being jettisoned off the team.
“It’s been tough just because I feel like I never had a real opportunity,” Hillis said of his career. “I went to Kansas City, and I was playing behind a great back in Jamaal Charles, so I really didn’t see the field a whole lot. (Then) “I went to Tampa behind another good back in Doug Martin and never got to play there.”
Now with the Giants, who signed him on Wednesday after waiving Da’Rel Scott injured, Hillis feels he has his last chance to carve out a niche for himself in the NFL.
“It’s good to finally get another opportunity,” he said. “I felt over the last couple of years that I really didn’t get an opportunity to show what I can do and I think I’m going to get my shot, so I better do it well. I like my coaching staff here and I feel like I can do something positive.”
Before coming to the Giants, the Conway, Ark. native who now lives in Tennessee with his wife and their young son, spent the last three weeks working out to stay in shape and helping in the local community as much as he could. When he got the call inviting him for a tryout from the Giants, he knew that the opportunity was too good to pass up.
“I was talking to my wife about it and we feel like this is a good opportunity for me to show what I still have,” he said. “I feel like this opportunity hadn’t come along, I might not have had any opportunities.”
Even though he’s still relatively young and a former Madden video game cover boy?
“Physically I know I can play, but the way the league is constructed now with the CBA a lot of guys aren’t getting opportunities anymore,” he said. “It’s just one of those things where I’m lucky and blessed to be here.”
Now that he’s with the Giants, Hillis, who believes he’s benefitted from the time spent in Tampa with offensive coordinator and former Giants assistant coach Mike Sullivan, is looking forward to getting up to speed on the playbook so that he can contribute in the Giants’ Monday night’s game against the Vikings.
“Hillis knows the offense, he knows the terminology–that helps a lot,” said head coach Tom Coughlin. “We know he can handle the first and second down stuff, and hopefully he’ll not be too hard pressed to pick up the third down stuff as well.”
“I expect to be in the playbook and play as much as I possibly can. I think as long as I get the playbook down, they’ll let me play,” Hillis said. “I was lucky enough to play in Tampa to learn the terminology and learn the playbook, and I feel that getting that heads up and coming here and knowing that, I can get on the field faster.”
Beyond that is anyone’s guess, but after having been humbled, Hillis understands that there is very little room for error if he is to continue playing professional football.
“I’ve been very humbled over the past couple of years,” he said. “I’ve really found my place and wherever I am, I’m trying to do what’s best for the team, whether that helps me or not.
“There are seven billion people in the world, but only two thousand of us get to play this game,” he added. “So you have to look at it and be very positive and thankful for it. It doesn’t last for long and you just have to keep a good frame of mind and hope that good things will happen.”