LATROBE, Pa – Last year wasn't what Mike Hilton imagined it would be.
When the cornerback signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars as an undrafted rookie free agent, he had high hopes for his rookie season. But those were quickly dashed when the Jaguars released him in the preseason.
He got a second chance when the New England Patriots, a team that wanted to sign him after the draft, added him to their practice squad ahead of the first game of the season. But the dream didn't last long. He was released a week later.
"It was a struggle mentally," said Hilton of last year. "It takes a lot out of you. A lot of guys are used to being on the field, being on a team. It took some mental strength to keep my hopes up, keep my confidence up.
"It's just believing. It's a long season. You never know when you are going to get a call. You just have to be ready when that call comes."
After sitting and waiting most of the year for his phone to ring, it finally did late in the year, when the Steelers signed him to their practice squad on Dec. 13. When the season ended he was signed to a reserve/future contract, and now he is back in camp, but this time it's a lot different.
"I wanted to make sure I was in shape and ready to go," said Hilton. "I showed potential in minicamp and OTAs and it's carried over, and hopefully it can keep going that way. I have to keep going day by day and keep up my playing style."
Hilton, who has been a standout in training camp and has earned praise, showed what he can do on a bigger stage against the New York Giants in the preseason opener on Friday night. He took down Geno Smith for a 10-yard sack in the second quarter. He also came up big when he recovered a muffed punt by Donte Deayon, giving the offense the ball and setting up the Steelers first touchdown of the game, to give them a 10-9 halftime lead. Hilton also came up with a stop on fourth-and-short in the fourth quarter to force the Giants to turn the ball over on downs.
"It feels good to get my feet wet again," said Hilton. "It's been a while since I have been on the field. I was able to make some plays and show my teammates and coaches I am able to contribute on defense or special teams."
He said it: Martavis Bryant on being back at practice:
"Feels great. I got a little rust on me so just have to get in shape and get ready to get better. Just being able to come back and work hard with my brothers. And just get back to work." Social Spotlight: