As a father of what is soon to be two Division I college football players, Carl Hilliard has undoubtedly had some proud moments over the last few years as he has watched his sons C.J. Hilliard and Justin Hilliard blossom into two outstanding football players, and by all accounts, two outstanding young men.
For all of the proud moments and the excitement of watching their games each fall weekend, the last few years have also been a grind. Between the two boys, the Hilliard's have went on visits to virtually every corner of the United States. For parents, recruiting is a time consuming and expensive endeavor but now it's time for Hilliard and his family to sit back and smell the roses with C.J. already enrolled at Iowa and Justin ending his recruitment by committing to Ohio State on Wednesday morning.
"It's a big relief for us," said Carl Hilliard. "We can actually relax, calm down, and enjoy our summer. The main thing now is for Justin to prepare for his senior season and win that state championship. It also gives Justin an opportunity to just be a kid and to start recruiting some of his friends nationally so that they can all go to The Ohio State University."
The latest commitment maybe wasn't expected to happen this early, or for Ohio State, even at all. The Buckeyes seemingly trailed a few other national powers in the early stages but the relationships built in recent months between Hilliard, his son, and his wife with Urban Meyer changed all of that.
"I would say over the last month and a half we really became very good friends with coach Meyer," Hilliard said, when asked about he and his family's relationship with the Ohio State head coach. "Ezekiel Elliott's dad, who is here with us today (at the announcement) has also become a good friend of ours. We've just really became close, we met (Meyer's) wife, we met his son when we had breakfast with them (on a recent visit) and we've talked to coach Meyer just about every day of the week. He's been accessible for us, any questions we have, he answers and it's just such a great support system with all of the coaches the players, and the families of the players."
'Recruiting is all about relationships', a common phrase uttered here at BuckeyeGrove.com. This was Exhibit A in that regard.
"The relationships were the number one thing," he continued. "We know all of (Meyer's) accolades and all that he's done for college football. We wanted to get to know coach Meyer as a man and we wanted to find out what his true values were and once we found out that he was a genuine guy, we really felt comfortable that when we drop (Justin) off that he is in a good place and we felt that way with coach Meyer and with his position coach Luke Fickell."
Another major factor in the decision was education. With a business degree on the agenda, Ohio State did more than enough to sell the Hilliard family on the power of a degree from the Fisher College of Business.
"When we met with the Dean of the business school, she gave us a complete overview of the business school and what they expect from you," he explained. "Justin coming from St. Xavier High School, he's already accustomed to a rigorous curriculum, his study habits are great, his grades are great, I think it will be a smooth transition for him."
With recruiting now on the back burner, the Hilliard's are about ready to settle back into the family tradition of spending their weekends at football games. This fall will provide a twist with one son in college and one in high school.
"We're just trying to work it all out," Hilliard said. "We're pricing RV's and we're planning to watch Justin on Friday nights, pack up and drive halfway or maybe all the way (to Iowa to watch C.J.) in early in the morning, but our goal is to see two games every weekend."
While this year will be an adjustment, the following year will present an even more unique challenge for the Hilliard family.
"Now the tough thing will be when Justin goes to Ohio State and I see one of them on one sideline and the other on another sideline," he said. "That's going to be pretty hard to get through. I've already designed a jersey I'm going to wear, one half Ohio State and one half Iowa."
The challenge that situation will present goes well beyond just rooting interests. The two brothers will likely at some point collide on the field with C.J. playing running back and Justin playing linebacker. While the two have been on the same teams for years and have practiced together, this is a bit of a different monster and one that the family is admittedly not particularly looking forward to.
"It's always been hard for us," he said. "We've always tried to prevent it when possible and tried to prevent too much competition within the family. We're a close knit family and we like to support each other, as shown by C.J. coming home a week early to be a part of Justin's announcement."