Browns RB Hillis an unlikely hero

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CLEVELAND (AP) - His hog-nosed facemask is unlike any in the NFL, just one of the many things separating Peyton Hillis from the pack of running backs.

With a straight-ahead, stop-me-if-you-dare smashmouth style, Hillis has emerged as an unstoppable force in his first season with the Cleveland Browns, who acquired him in a trade never envisioning he would emerge as their best offensive threat.

Soft-spoken off the field, Hillis is downright demonic when he’s gets the ball.

“Dude’s a beast,” said Browns linebacker David Bowens.

Thus, the facemask.

“It looks like it has tusks,” Hillis says in a distinct, Southern twang in describing the unique cage that protects the face of this football-crazed city’s newest star. “It brings me back to my college days at Arkansas. It’s ugly, but I like it.”

Cleveland has fallen for Hillis the same way he drops linebackers.

At 6-foot-1, 240 pounds, he’s a hulking hunk, who on the brink of surpassing 1,000 yards, has quickly made the Browns‘ female fanbase forget about quarterback Brady Quinn’s model looks. Quinn, by the way, is the one Cleveland traded to Denver in March for Hillis.

Hillis is also a guy’s guy. Dressed in rattlesnake-skinned cowboy boots, jeans, a camouflage jacket and a tattered baseball cap, Hillis is the antithesis of many pro athletes right down to his favorite hobby _ hunting 400-pound, wild boars in the woods back home.

“You get a team of boys together, a bunch of dogs, you lay ‘em (the boars) up against a tree and shoot ‘em or cut ‘em,” Hillis explains matter-of-factly. “Pretty simple.”

Bringing down Hillis, on the other hand, is anything but easy.

Knees churning, cleats kicking up dirt and grass, he’s a terror to tackle. On his way to rushing for 131 yards in Sunday’s win over Carolina, Hillis powered over an unfortunate Panthers safety at the 2 before going in for this third touchdown, and 11th this season, joining Hall of Famers Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly as the only Cleveland backs to score that many.

But Hillis isn’t only three yards and a cloud of debris and dust. He’s remarkably agile and has perfected a hurdle to elude defensive backs who try to cut out his legs.

“Not only does he bulldoze people,” Browns center Alex Mack said, “he can jump over them, too.”

Hillis will enter Sunday’s game in Miami with 905 rushing yards and 414 receiving yards on a team-high 46 catches.

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