CONWAY — All signs point toward senior quarterback Aramis Hillary returning to the starting lineup Saturday for Coastal Carolina after some initial doubt as to his status when the week began.
Chanticleers head coach Joe Moglia stated without hesitation Wednesday that he expects Hillary to be on the field for Coastal’s game at Presbyterian, and the veteran quarterback put in another full day of practice with the first-team on Thursday to back up that statement.
“I’m expecting [him to play],” Moglia said Wednesday “I don’t think I’ve ever tried to give you guys a curveball. I’m expecting Aramis to play quarterback. And if he doesn’t, it will be because something’s happened between now and then that’s unexpected.”
Hillary, who was sidelined for the Chants’ game last week at Gardner-Webb after sustaining a mild neck injury the previous Saturday, had been dealing with lingering pain in his throwing arm, prompting offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude to suggest before practice Tuesday that the quarterback might need another week of rest.
But he has exceeded expectations with his participation in practice and it looks like he’ll be good to go as the Chants (5-4, 3-1 Big South) look for their fourth straight win while playing the struggling Blue Hose (2-7, 0-4).
Hillary has thrown for 1,770 yards, 12 touchdowns and four interceptions in eight games, while redshirt-freshman Alex Ross put up 404 total yards of offense last week in his stead.
Hazel rising up charts
Junior receiver Matt Hazel is in the midst of one of the most productive pass-catching seasons in program history, trailing only former Coastal star and current NFL receiver Jerome Simpson on the single-season reception list.
His 42 catches through nine games is already 10 more than he had all of last season while earning second-team All-Big South honors.
Simpson set the program record with 61 receptions in 12 games in 2006.
“I really wasn’t aware of that,” Hazel said. “That’s pretty cool, a great accomplishment, but I’m not too much worried about it.”
Hazel has 533 receiving yards and three touchdowns on the season. He had an unfortunate drop last week on a long pass from Ross that likely would have gone for another touchdown, but otherwise, he’s been as reliable as any receiver in the Chants’ deep stable.
“If it’s between him and somebody else for the ball, my money would be on Matt probably,” Moglia said.
Hawthorne settling in
On the defensive side, meanwhile, junior LaDarius Hawthorne has emerged over the last few weeks to help improve a shaky Coastal secondary.
Hawthorne, who had been rotating in at cornerback behind seniors Tre Henderson and Dontavais Johnson, has made his mark two straight weeks with interceptions against Liberty and Gardner-Webb and looks to have earned a spot ahead of Henderson on the depth chart.
After setting the tone for Coastal against Liberty with a 66-yard interception return for touchdown early in the first quarter, Hawthorne contributed to a strong defensive fourth quarter last week at Gardner-Webb with another pick while also ranking among the team’s tackles leaders both weeks.
“It’s been a surprise to me personally because I didn’t know my season was going to turn out the way it did,” he said. “You know, two senior corners playing in front of you, some guys would just lay back and let them play, but I came in a little aggressive this year, working a lot harder. When the first one happened I was surprised. When the second one came, I was like, OK, now it’s happening – my dreams that I’ve always dreamed about are coming true.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.