Commodores’ Hillenmeyer Among NCAA Elite in Tackles; Playing Superb While Learning New Linebacking Position 10/7/02

Vanderbilt linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer entered the season facing the toughest challenge of his collegiate career. To say he has passed the test would constitute a huge understatement.

Nearly midway through the season, the Commodore senior has positioned himself as one of the nation’s premier defenders, despite learning to play a new position, middle linebacker. For the last two season, Hillenmeyer played on the outside in a four-linebacker alignment.

Hillenmeyer, a native of Nashville, has blossomed in the middle. Through five games, he is second in the NCAA and leads the Southeastern Conference with 49 solo tackles. Hillenmeyer also ranks fifth nationally with 68 total tackles.
The 6’4”, 241-pound senior appears to improve with each start as he becomes more comfortable with the position. In his last outing against South Carolina, Hillenmeyer posted a career-high 18 total tackles. He has topped double-digit tackles in every game this season.

Hillenmeyer’s effort has earned praises from the Vanderbilt staff. “Hunter has done everything our staff has asked of him, and has performed at a very high level in every game" Head Coach Bobby Johnson said. "He has responded well to a very difficult challenge.”

Johnson and his staff introduced a new defensive system last spring, unveiling a 4-3 set to a squad that played the 3-4 for the previous three seasons. Their search for a middle linebacker - a key to effectively utilizing the 4-3 - focused on Hillenmeyer, who had spent the 2001 season as an outside linebacker.
“We needed help in the middle,” Vanderbilt linebacker coach Warren Belin said. “We felt Hunter was the perfect fit with his strength, size and ability to run.”
Though reluctant initially, Hillenmeyer accepted the challenge. He spent the off-season preparing himself in the weight room and doing what he could to learn the new scheme. When preseason drills arrived, Hillenmeyer told the staff he was ready for the position change. They also wanted him to step forward as a leader for the unit.

“The leadership role was important to Hunter,” Belin said. “Our middle linebacker has to be the leader of our defense. He calls the signals, he has to know his assignments and those of the other players. Hunter has accepted that role. He studies a lot of film and is very active in discussing the game plan with our coaches.”

Belin is pleased with Hillenmeyer’s progress and sees an unlimited future for his pupil. “Hunter is developing into the player that we as a defensive staff thought he could be. If he continues to improve and develop as a player, Hunter has a future at the next level,” Belin said.

Hillenmeyer also is a standout in the classroom. He will complete a double major this year, with degrees in economics and Human & Organizational Development. A two-time All-SEC Academic Honor Roll selection, Hillenmeyer maintains a 3.79 GPA.




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