Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Ike Hilliard was the No. 7 overall pick in the 1997 NFL draft out of the University of Florida. While he has never achieved the star status that some expected, he has had a quiet-but-productive 11-year career and is respected among coaches and fellow players for his knowledge of the game. He had seven catches for 114 yards against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday after returning to the starting lineup.
On Tuesday, he was up early, but not because he was prepping for next Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts. He was taking care of his 17-month old daughter, allowing his pregnant wife to sleep in:
Cole: You were talking Sunday about how you have to "stay young," which was one of the reasons you play video games so much. Is that young from a psychological standpoint?
Hilliard: Yeah, in this game you have to keep up with all the young guys coming in. There are a million guys ready to take your job coming out of college, so you have to stay on top of it. They got all these 6(-foot)-4, 6-5 guys who can run. I don't know what's in the water, but you have to do everything you can to keep up.
Cole: I hear you're one of the best "Madden" players out there. True?
Hilliard: I just beat (Bucs tight end) Alex Smith four in a row and six of the last seven. They were telling me he was the big champion. He just talks a lot of (trash). I took care of him.
Cole: Any other reason for keeping young?
Hilliard: I've got a son who's going to be 13 (in December). He talks way too much trash.
Cole: So what are you doing now?
Hilliard: Well, my little girl (Leila) got up around 6:45, 7:15 and wanted to get going, so I headed down with her, let my wife stay in bed. I want her to rest. So I'm sitting in (my daughter's) little play area. She's either playing with her toys or she's watching "Sesame Street" or the "Baby Einstein" videos … The videos work out really good because if I shut my eyes for 15 minutes, I know she's going to be right there in that same spot … Most of the time on Tuesdays, it's just about getting some rest, whatever you can do. Really, my life is pretty boring. Once in a while, I'll swing the golf clubs, but that's it.
Cole: I've heard your wife is really bright, she has a law degree, right?
Hilliard: I don't know how bright she is, she married me. That was her first mistake. After we met at Florida, she finished there and then went to (Florida International) and got her masters in business and then she got her law degree at Miami. She's from Miami originally. She's never practiced because we're doing the family thing first, but she really knows her stuff.
Cole: A lot of guys in the NFL are intimidated by smart women. You're not?
Hilliard: Nah, I've never really thought about it that way. She's my girl. She's my girl forever.
Cole: Coaches and players around the league say you're one of the smartest players out there. Do you study the game a lot on your off day?
Hilliard: No, my off day is my off day – no football. But the way I've always looked at it, you have to be accountable for yourself first. I study the game. I know what I'm doing. I probably never fulfilled those lofty expectations that everybody had when I was seventh overall, but I know what I'm doing and that's why I'm playing still. Coaches and players who appreciate how the game is played appreciate what I do and that's OK.
Cole: What's the dumbest thing you have ever seen a rookie do?
Hilliard: Man, I stay out of their lives. When I was in New York (with the Giants), the older guys stayed out of the younger guys' lives. You want to be a good teammate, but you can't get caught up in their lives. That gets too crazy. But I will say after all these years that the dumbest thing for any rookie is to not be in camp on time. It's just stupid. The money is going to be there if you show up and you know what you're doing. Compared to where the money was 10 years (ago) and 10 years before I got into it, if you're holding out, you're fighting for change. It makes no sense. You have to get to camp and work on your accountability factor with the team. Other than that, I don't pay attention very much to the young guys. I'm very boring that way.
Cole: If you could be commissioner for a day, what would you do?
Hilliard: I don't think I want that problem. There are so many issues out there that you have to worry about when you're in that position, you can have it. It's not for me. He has to swing his hammer the way he sees fit.
Cole: So you wouldn't even get rid of the preseason, something like that?
Hilliard: I think you need the preseason. You need to see how guys are going to react, who as a coach you can depend on. You have to see if they can play tackle. There's all sorts of guys who can run around and play in shorts. When it gets to be tackle, it's different. You have to see who can handle it. I don't know if we need to have less (preseason), but you have to have some to see who can handle it when the heat comes on. But as far as being the commissioner, I hate to say it, but some guys need to have a babysitter, a mediator and a dictator in their lives to help them and that's what they're asking the commissioner to do.
Cole: How about coaching?
Hilliard: I'm starting to develop that itch a little. I don't know what level, but it's getting there.
Cole: High school?
Hilliard: No, I don't want any part of dealing with high school and parents who ask why their kids aren't playing.
Cole: OK, NFL or college?
Hilliard: That's what I'm trying to figure out. Part of it is I want to spend time with my family, so I don't know how that's going to work out. The ideal job would probably be as a college coach. The kids at that level have a big decision to make about where they go and who they trust if they get a scholarship. I've learned things over a lifetime in this game about the push and pull you go through and I'd like to pass that on. But there's also a lot of things about teaching the game itself that appeal to me on the NFL level. We'll see … I'll figure it out when I'm done playing in about six years.
Cole: Your son is playing now. How is that going?
Hilliard: He thinks he's God's gift to everybody and it bothers me a little bit. He's watching too much (football on) TV. It's cool and I enjoy the challenge, but (he's) entirely different than I was toward the game. I didn't talk like that … But he's a great kid, he makes great grades. He's not a young punk, he's a really good kid. But he's a bit of a talker, on and off the field. He can't keep his mouth shut. I just hope he doesn't get humbled by somebody and lose his enthusiasm for the game.
Cole: Is he a wide receiver like you?
Hilliard: He's a running back. I was a quarterback at that age, then I was a running back in high school. I was 171 pounds coming out of high school, so I knew the running back thing wasn't going to really work. Most schools wanted me to play free safety because I had a lot of interceptions. But I couldn't see (myself) coming up on Jerome Bettis (for a tackle). So I made a business decision early and went over to wide receiver. With my son, I don't know. He's more of a hard head. He likes to hit.