When Missouri released its depth chart Monday ahead of this weekend’s game against LSU, there was one major change.
Sophomore safety Cam Hilton is now listed as the “or” starter at strong safety along with junior Anthony Sherrils.
It’s the latest evidence of Hilton’s meteoric rise.
“He just makes plays,” Tigers safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator Ryan Walters said. “Every time he’s been on the field, he’s been productive.”
As a true freshman last season, Hilton played wide receiver, catching nine passes for 129 yards. His 14.3-yard average per reception was the most among all Mizzou players who caught more than six passes.
Switching to defense last spring, Hilton worked as junior Thomas Wilson’s backup at free safety during training camp, but he shined in limited reps early in the season, particularly against Georgia with a third-quarter interception that set up a touchdown and a fourth-quarter pass breakup.
“It’s a pretty good feeling,” Hilton said. “I always knew I was capable of those plays.”
Defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross said Hilton “centered in” after that second-half success against the Bulldogs, which is why he’s going to get more opportunities.
“Obviously, he’s young, so he’s still making some detail-oriented mistakes, but he’s aggressive, he tackles well, he covers well and, with the limited amount of snaps he got earlier in the year, he’s done something with it,” Walters said. “He earned more playing time. Guys who make plays earn more reps.”
It’s no surprise to those who know Hilton best.
Growing up, Hilton played for Tigers senior linebacker Michael Scherer’s dad, Joe, on a youth football team from fifth through eighth grades.
“I’ve been watching Cam since I was in high school,” Scherer said. “He was doing the same thing in fourth grade he’s doing now. He hasn’t changed. He makes plays. He’s been making plays since he was 10 years old. … He’s a playmaker. That’s what he is. He gets on the field and every time he gets out there, it seems like he does something big for the team.”
There’s still plenty of room for growth on Hilton’s part.
“In high school, I didn’t use any technique,” Hilton said. “I just played backyard football.”
That’s typical of players with Hilton’s supreme athleticism.
“His athletic ability is different than some, and in a good way,” first-year MU coach Barry Odom said. “He’s got to slow down just a little bit, if that makes sense, and really have his eyes in the right spot. He’s so quick, sometimes he gets out of position, because he’s not trusting exactly what he’s seeing. That comes with reps and that comes with a little bit of experience. He’s got a chance of being a really good player.”
That’s because Hilton is beginning to understand the dedication — to his craft, in practice, to film study — it takes to transform his elite ability into making him an elite playmaker at the college level.
“He needs to grow up and really focus on practicing well, so he can help us out even more,” Scherer said. “He’s got unlimited talent. … He needs to put in the time and work and effort off the field and on the practice field during the week, so that he can contribute more on Saturdays.”
Walters agreed, but said he’s been pleased with the work Hilton has put in with respect to technique, especially his man-to-man coverage skills and Hilton’s knack for translating lessons from practice and film study to the field.
“He is very instinctual,” Walters said. “He’s still got to grow as far as Xs and Os and the details of this game and take ownership of doing extra, but he’s started to do that, which is why he’s played well when he’s gotten in there.”