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Country boy has become "The Man" in the Broncos backfield

By: AP
By: AP

With a Southern twang, a hankering for Hank Williams and exotic cowboy boots, Peyton Hillis isn't your average starting NFL tailback.

"I'm definitely different than a lot of other people," the Denver Broncos rookie said. "I can be me and who I am."

Just who is Hillis?

He was the lead blocker for Darren McFadden and Felix Jones at the University of Arkansas, the afterthought in the Razorbacks' backfield on draft day.

With McFadden and the Oakland Raiders coming to town Sunday, it's Hillis who will be starting and McFadden, still working his way back from a toe injury, who will be on the sideline as a sub.

Jones, meanwhile, is done for the year. The Dallas Cowboys placed him on injured reserve Thursday with a toe injury he sustained while rehabilitating a strained hamstring.

"I'm going to have to give him a call," Hillis said upon hearing the news. "I hate that, just because I know how good of a guy he is. Everybody saw his talent earlier in the year."

Not all that many saw Hillis while he played third fiddle at Arkansas.

McFadden and Jones had all the hype and both were picked in the first round. Hillis slipped all the way to the seventh and final round.

He started out as a fullback and special teams player, but a slew of injuries required his switch to tailback. Hillis made the most of his first start there last weekend, rushing for 44 yards and two touchdowns in Denver's 24-20 win at Atlanta.

Hillis humbly downplayed his contribution.

"The odds of me doing what I'm doing, it's astronomical," he admitted.

McFadden disagrees. He knows Hillis had a lot to do with him finishing runner-up in the Heisman race two times with Hillis' brutal blocking opening so many rushing lanes.

"It's been good to see Peyton go out there and do as good as he's been doing," said McFadden, who was selected by Oakland with the fourth overall pick last April. "He's a great player, did a lot of great things for us at Arkansas. Seeing him do what he's doing in the NFL is just a great honor."

McFadden vouches for Hillis' country flair, even predicting his style of dress on game day.

"I can imagine he's going to have a button-up shirt on with the three top buttons not buttoned ... and the cowboy boots," McFadden said, laughing. "He's always in some type of cowboy boots."

Hillis does have seven pairs, some made from ostrich, lizard, python and rattlesnake.

He also listens to old-school country music in his white Dodge truck, counting George Strait, George Jones and Conway Twitty among his favorites.

"Alan Jackson is pretty good, too," he added.

Hillis' teammates love the twang in his voice, and they tease him about his clothing ensemble, which definitely leans toward a Western theme.

Quarterback Jay Cutler even took a dig at him this week, saying: "Peyton isn't as country as everyone thinks. He's a little bit more urban."

Urban cowboy?

His rattlesnake boots suggest he's the real deal.

Notes: CB Champ Bailey and RB Selvin Young both participated in practice Thursday on a limited basis. Each has been out with groin injuries. Bailey said he's walking a fine line between wanting to play and risking further injury. "I'm big on accountability, and I feel like I'm not being accountable right now by not playing," he said. ... Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said TE Nate Jackson injured his right hamstring running an out route in practice Wednesday, and will be out six to eight weeks. Jackson was placed on injured reserve. ... WR Brandon Marshall, who caused a stir with his scuttled plans to wear a black-and-white glove to salute racial unity after Barack Obama won the election, donned a fur cap for his weekly news conference Thursday. But he wanted to make one thing clear: "It's not real fur, so I don't want to come in Monday and my mailbox is full of animal lovers," Marshall said. "I love animals, too."


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