Torieaun “Torii” Hilbert, a sophomore criminology major and transfer student from Ohio Wesleyan University, settled at the University of La Verne this fall and has since gained the respect of his coaches and teammates after an impressive first season.
Hilbert was originally headed to the University of Nevada Las Vegas to play Division I football, which was one of his dreams.
However, due to NCAA academic requirements, which deemed him ineligible to receive scholarships, he had to make the move to Ohio Wesleyan before finally arriving at La Verne.
Before fully committing to football, during his senior year in high school, Hilbert received multiple Division I offers to play basketball.
Those offers came from Texas State University and an institution in New Jersey, as well as from the local Biola University in La Mirada, California.
Basketball was Hilbert’s first-choice sport, but he chose the path that would ultimately work out in his favor the most.
“After I formerly committed to UNLV, I no longer began to look into options for playing basketball at the university level,” Hilbert said.
“UNLV was my dream school, but as far as who I was and what they were offering me, it was only for football, they were not looking at me as a basketball player.”
While Hilbert still had the option to play football for his dream school of UNLV, he opted to transfer to OWU instead to avoid the higher cost of tuition.
Hilbert said he was confident in his abilities as a football player and knew that he would be OK.
He knew he had options and even if it was not a Division I or Division II university, there would be something in Division III that he could work with.
Hilbert’s biggest impact this season was a pick-six against the Cal Lutheran Kingsmen, where he returned the interception and got the touchdown that initiated a Leopard comeback win, 28-27.
Raised with five sisters, Hilbert has had extra motivation to be successful.
“There’s pressure in the sense that I’m doing all of this for my sisters, nieces and nephews,” Hilbert said.
“I’m the only male, so I feel it’s sort of my role and job to set an example for them coming from my male perspective.”
While at OWU, Hilbert considered going to Dixie State University, Weber State University or San Jose State University to play football, before finally deciding on ULV.
The defensive back, managed to get 24 solo tackles this season, three assists, averaged 3.4 tackles per game while getting one sack of 10 yards as well as one interception that was returned for a touchdown.
“I feel like most importantly, I’m in college to get my education,” Hilbert said.
“I feel like I’m at a stage in my life where I’m trying to get better, so I feel pretty good because I’m working hard for my family and showcasing what I can do to them.”
During his sophomore year in high school, Hilbert chose not to play football. It was only thanks to one of his friends, the team’s quarterback at the time, that he decided to play the following season.
Hilbert received First Team All-League honors that season.
He said that accolade put into perspective the possibility of using his talent on the football field to continue pursuing his education, as well as his own personal goal of playing at a Division I university.
Hilbert reached out to head coach Chris Krich over the summer, letting him know he was interested in making a move back to California.
“I was more impressed after meeting him in person as I could tell he was one of those guys who is very focused both on and off of the field,” Krich said.
“It was just a major bonus that he had unbelievable athletic ability on top of outstanding character.”
Eager to come back home, Hilbert alongside his family arranged a visit to the ULV campus and explored a potential transfer.
Despite having Division I offers from multiple universities to play the sport he was originally passionate about, Hilbert made a complete turn to play football instead.
Junior running back Martaveous Holliday, a first-year transfer student from Santa Monica, said that he recalls being impressed with Hilbert’s athletic ability when he met him during summer camp.
“When I first saw him play, I knew he was a good corner,” Holliday said.
“He looked athletic, when we did a lot of the testing he could run fast, jump high and do all of the stuff we needed him to do.”
After his first season at ULV, Hilbert was named All-SCIAC Second Team, alongside five other Leopards who also received All-SCIAC honors.
As a transferring sophomore, Hilbert showed not only potential, but also plenty of room for growth.
He said that not being able to play for his dream school of UNLV has only humbled him even more.
He added that he is more than blessed for the opportunity to play football for ULV while remaining close to home.
“He is probably one of the best defensive players I’ve had the pleasure of coaching in my 19-year career,” Krich said. “And the most exciting part, he is only a sophomore with a lot of room to grow and we are excited about his future here as a Leopard.”