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Hilton Grows on Glendale Coaches : College football: Pint-sized as a high school player, receiver makes big impact for Vaqueros.


GLENDALE — The transformation of Tim Hilton caught many people by surprise.


"I remember telling (assistant) coaches, 'You've got to see this guy,' " said John Cicuto, the Glendale College football coach. "It was like a different person."

Three years ago, when Cicuto first saw him, Hilton was a scrawny Glendale High wide receiver with big ideas about playing in college. But at 5 feet 6 and about 130 pounds, Hilton was too small to make Cicuto's team in his first attempt.

Not anymore.

After taking a circuitous route, Hilton transferred to Glendale from Cal Lutheran and landed a spot in the lineup. It was no contest this time. The short and skinny kid had turned into a taller and more muscular man with blazing speed to boot.

Step right up, young man. What jersey number would you like? Three? Consider it yours.

That's one of the numbers the Moorpark defense will try to contain today at 1 when the Raiders (4-2) meet Glendale (4-2) in a crucial Western State Conference North Division game at Glendale High.

But it won't be easy.

Hilton, now 5-10 and 180 pounds, ranks sixth in the conference in all-purpose rushing with 749 yards. Although primarily a receiver who has 19 catches for 354 yards, Hilton is the team's top kickoff and punt returner with 355 yards, and runs the ball occasionally.

Last week, in a 38-6 victory over Ventura, Hilton returned four kickoffs for 175 yards, including one for a 78-yard touchdown. He also scored on a 44-yard pass from quarterback Eddie Michel and now has four touchdowns.

"My brother (Scott) told me he would give me $100 if I broke a kickoff for a touchdown," Hilton said. "He just paid up."

There was a time, however, when some people probably thought Hilton, 20, wouldn't be worth a dime as a football player after high school.

They looked at his size, shook their heads and dismissed his plan. But they forgot to consider his determination.

"I've always had confidence in myself," said Hilton, a born-again Christian who says his faith helps him overcome obstacles. "I love football and I knew I could play."

Even if it wasn't with kids his age.

Because of his size, Hilton usually played youth football in lower divisions while his friends played in the higher levels.

The prospect of her son being injured always worried Hilton's mother, Suzy Phillips, but she encouraged him to play. She wanted him involved in football not only for the sport but to have Hilton around male role models because his father had died when he was 5.

"Being a single parent, I always thought sports were important for the boys," said Phillips, who recently remarried.

Sports definitely were important for Hilton at Glendale High, where he was a receiver and, amazingly, an outside linebacker in his senior season in 1990. That was only one year after tipping the scales at 117 pounds. Hilton never held back because of his size.

"I believe he's the only guy who has had two Knockout awards (for hard hits) when I coached the team," said Don Shoemaker, Hilton's coach at Glendale.

"His two hits stand out in my mind. In both cases he was blocking for (running back) Pathon Rucker. One was against Muir. We had thrown a pass for Pathon over the middle. Tim put a tremendous hit on the free safety. After the game, everyone was talking about it."

Other times, although not many, Hilton got his brain waves short-circuited.

"I remember when the freshman team was playing against Alhambra one day, and I was hit so hard that I just went flying," Hilton said.

"(The Alhambra players) were pretty excited. One of our guys was yelling at them that it was no big deal, that I was the smallest guy on the field. Actually, I probably gained about five yards from the hit."

Hilton said opponents frequently tried--and sometimes still do--to rattle him with trash talk about his size. But he prefers to burn them on the field with his quickness rather than with words.

"There were plenty of teams that would mouth off," Hilton said. "Being a Christian helps me to control myself."

After high school, Hilton wanted to attend Cal Lutheran but could not get financial aid in time and opted for Glendale.

He redshirted that season and devoted the time to start an intense weightlifting program that gradually bulked him up.

"I saw a kid who had one of the biggest hearts on the team, but he was so small," recalled Cicuto. "There was never a question about his desire or work ethic."

The next season, Hilton transferred to Cal Lutheran but broke his left ankle in a pickup basketball game during the summer and was sidelined for 1992.

He played for the Kingsmen last season as a redshirt freshman and had 19 receptions for 327 yards and four touchdowns.

But last spring, Hilton couldn't get the classes he wanted at Cal Lutheran and transferred to Glendale.

It was time to pay Cicuto another visit.

"When he came back, he was so much bigger and stronger," Cicuto said. "We didn't know where his speed was, but we found out he is a legit speed kid (4.5 seconds in the 40 yards) who can go vertical. He makes the catches that have to be made."

Which is reason enough for the coach to ask people to look at the kid now.

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