Editor’s note: This profile on Andrew Hilliard ’03 is the seventh in a 13-part series by Valerie Turgeon ’13 on the alumni who will be inducted into the St. Thomas Athletic Hall of Fame on Sept. 19. Read a new profile every day in tommiesports.com.
Andrew Hilliard ’03 is the epitome of a student-athlete in the way he balanced relay and hurdle races, football games and academic awards.
“I saw academics as another competitive arena –- just like in football and track,” he said. “I wasn't satisfied unless I thought I had done my best.”
Not only did Hilliard compete in sports year-round and have a sterling academic record (3.98 grade-point average in mathematics), he also volunteered for his hometown Woodbury Athletic Association at track and football camps as well as for the National Youth Sports Program, Bailey Elementary School classes and the Special Olympics. He was a member of the campus Fellowship of Christian Athletes and volunteered at Vacation Bible School, Habitat for Humanity and a Loaves and Fishes food shelf.
Being that active is no easy task, but Hilliard never thought of it as a balancing act. After all, he wasn’t in it alone.
“I was very fortunate to have parents and roommates who respected those commitments and supported me,” he said. “Without my teammates and coaches, the accomplishments would never have happened, and being inducted into the Hall of Fame wouldn’t even be a consideration.”
In football, Hilliard was a four-year starter as a receiver. He twice was voted All-MIAC and started 38 of 40 career games (missing two with injuries). He finished with 147 receptions for 2,547 yards (17.3 ypc) and 23 touchdowns.
PHOTO: L-R, Coach Glenn Caruso, younger brother Jeffrey Hilliard and Andrew Hilliard in 2009 photo
In track and field, he was a six-time Division III All-America relay runner. His 4×400 relay placed in the top five at nationals all four years of his career, and the 2003 relay placed third in a conference-record time of 3:11.12 -– just .04 seconds out of first place. He qualified for nationals twice in the 400-meter hurdles. He ran on a top-five 4×100 relay in 2002 and a top-five 4×400 relay in the 2003 indoor national meet. He finished his career with 16 conference titles in relay and individual races.
Outdoors, Hilliard ran on MIAC champion 4×400 relays all four years and was a three-time conference 400-meter hurdles champion. He helped St. Thomas win all eight MIAC team championships (indoors and outdoors) in his four-year era.
Hilliard also received four prestigious national awards for academics and athletics: NCAA Top VIII Award, National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete Award, Woody Hayes National Scholar-Athlete Award and the Track/CC Academic All-American of the Year. He was a rare five-time Academic All-America honoree in both sports.
“Between the two sports, my overall accomplishment was probably being honored with the Woody Hayes award,” he said. “I think I succeeded in living the essence of what it means to be a student-athlete at the Division III level. I played two sports ‘for the love of the game,’ committed myself to getting a great education, met some life-long friends and had a lot of fun along the way.”
Some of the fun in football include memories such as Coach Tom Flood’s tough-guy speeches, the Jake Barkley “stay hard” pose in the offensive huddle, the Joslin vs. Hall brawl in practice, Coach George Wemeier’s “hey hey hey” expression and desperate attempts to get a pair of pants that fit from equipment manager Willy McCoy.
In track, Hilliard said, “There were the pre-conference meet score sheets, Roman Cress tirades about being ‘the man,’ Carson & Cassidy Glad mediation sessions, Coach Nick Young reminiscing about his glory days, and conference parties hosted at our place, complete with a 30-person hot tub.”
The best part, Hilliard said, was to “have a place to go every day to be with friends and work towards a common goal. As the theme song from the TV show ‘Cheers’ goes, ‘Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came. You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same; you wanna be where everybody knows your name.’ ”
As a teacher, football coach and track and field coach today at Lakeville South High School, Hilliard continues to be part of teams and gets “to visit the sanctuary of the football field in the fall and the track in the spring. They are still places for me to go ‘where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.’ ”
Hilliard continued his success in track and field when he guided the Cougars to the 2012 Minnesota state high school championship. He is married to former St. Thomas track runner Heidi Vogel ’03, and they have two children, Lucy (5) and Teddy (3).
He is thankful that his brother, Jeffrey, nominated him for the St. Thomas Hall of Fame, and for the support of his parents, Jerry and Karen, and former roommates John Smith and Luke Tierney. He also thanks sports information director Gene McGivern for his role in award nominations.
“Gene was plenty busy in that crammed office in the old O'Shaughnessy Hall, but he found the time to nominate me,” Hilliard said. “Thanks to Gene, I was able to travel to some amazing awards ceremonies, meet some celebrity personalities, help pay for my graduate school and now join an impressive group in the UST Athletic Hall of Fame.”
During his senior year, Hilliard joined with fellow Tommie Dan Starkey to make a presentation to the St. Thomas Board of Trustees. They shared their vision for the future of St. Thomas athletics and facilities and outlined the importance of athletics as a powerful arm of the school.
“I did this knowing that any changes to the outdated facilities would have no benefit to me as a student-athlete, but because I believed in the athletic program,” he said. “The program had given me so much and it felt natural to advocate for it to grow into something even better.”
He is proud of the prominence that St. Thomas has gained in Division III athletics.
“Being a part of that St. Thomas athletic program in the past and watching it grow, being honored as a 2013 Hall of Fame inductee in the present, and knowing that I have a permanent place in one of the country's most successful athletic programs in the future are very special to me,” he said. “I always strived to ‘leave everything on the field’ when I practiced and competed. It’s pretty neat knowing that a little piece of me will be there long after I'm gone.”
Jake Barkley 2003 Football
Nikki Conway 2006 Softball
Roman Cress 2003 Track & Field
Carrie Embree 2007 Softball, Basketball
Jane Gibbs-Becker 2004 Volleyball
Kristal Grigsby 2006 Track & Field
Andrew Hilliard 2003 Track & Field, Football
Diane Loughlin Urick 1989 Track & Field, Cross Country
Janet Nagle 2006 Softball
Steve Pignato 1997 Baseball
Isaac Rosefelt 2007 Basketball
Tessie Thompson 2003 Soccer
Michelle Wong 2005 Softball