CONWAY — Facing the likelihood of having only two games remaining in his collegiate football career, Coastal Carolina senior Aramis Hillary has made it clear he wants the chance to stamp a strong ending on his mostly productive two-year run as the Chanticleers’ starting quarterback.
But it remains far less clear if he’ll actually get the opportunity to work toward that goal this week.
After sitting out the Chants’ last game while recovering from a sore neck, Hillary’s presumed return could be on hold yet again with the coaches anticipating another late decision as to who will take the team’s snaps against Presbyterian on Saturday.
“He’s actually feeling a little sore, so we’re going to hold him out and kind of evaluate him during the week,” CCU offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude said. “He’s a little banged up – it’s neck, shoulder, arm, just wear and tear from the season. So we’re going to hold him for a couple days and just see how he responds. ... And then we’re going to proceed along the same lines that we did last week – get Alex ready to go and see in the next couple days how he responds.”
Redshirt-freshman Alex Ross’ performance at Gardner-Webb last Saturday certainly makes it a littler easier to play it safe with Hillary. Making his first collegiate start, the rookie set a Big South freshman record with 404 yards of total offense while passing for 342 yards, three touchdowns and an interception and rushing for 62 yards in Coastal’s 55-33 win.
Ross has been tapped as the successor to Hillary’s starting job next season, and the coaches would have no hesitation in letting him make another start this week in yet another must-win game for a Coastal team (5-4, 3-1 Big South) clinging to an outside shot at the conference championship and the FCS playoff berth that comes along with that.
“It makes my mind at ease a little bit more. It’s not as much of an unknown,” Patenaude said of Ross. “But you still have a fifth-year senior who’s played really well for us who would like to get back going. We don’t want to put him out there if he’s not going to be able to perform at 100 percent, so the fortunate thing for us is that Alex did play well and he does give us an opportunity to win and we don’t have to rush Aramis back.”
Hillary, too, was impressed in what he saw from his backup, who had thrown only 17 collegiate passes entering that game in Boiling Springs, N.C.
“Ross is a good player. If you came out here to all the practices or were at preseason camp, you’d know that guy, he can throw the football,” Hillary said. “He’s really advanced for a freshman. He was even advanced last year, so there was no doubt in my mind he was going to go out there and put up big numbers and lead the team to a victory. I’ve got high expectations for him next year. I want to be reading in the paper next year that he’s top-five in the country in passing and leading the team to victories week in and week out.”
Hillary would like the opportunity to finish this season out on the field rather than the sideline.
Patenaude and coach Joe Moglia had both said Hillary could have played last week if needed and that he was expected to return in full this week in preparation for the trip to Presbyterian (2-7, 0-4). But he’s still feeling soreness in his throwing arm, which Patenaude likened to a “Charley horse,” and so it sounds like the Chants could keep everyone guessing most of the week as to who will lead this surging Coastal offense.
“I’m still a little bit sore,” Hillary acknowledged. “I’m feeling a little bit better. I’ve been rehabbing hard trying to get back out there for the last two games. It’s been kind of tough mentally just going through that. ... But we’ll see how the week goes and hopefully I’ll be back on Saturday.”
Added Patenaude: “It’s really more frustrating when you are put in that situation and you know you only have a couple games left and you really want to go. And physically he feels good, except when he throws he gets a little pain in there. So he’s done everything he could possibly do. ... And if he’s able to go on Saturday, he’ll play.”
Hillary was having a fine season in his own right before sustaining the neck injury late in Coastal’s Oct. 27 win over Liberty. He’s completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 1,770 yards, 12 touchdowns and four interceptions and he’s looking forward to the opportunity to add to those totals – whenever that may be.
“One thing I always tell the guys [is], ‘I never took a day off.’ So this is new to me, sitting back and watching practice,” Hillary said. “I haven’t done this in a while, but it’s real important – I want to get back out there. Words can’t even explain how bad I want to be out there.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.