LOS ANGELES - When Dalton Hilliard analyzes where he stands currently, he's where he thought he would be all along --on the offensive side of the ball.
Hilliard was a standout offensive player at Punahou High School in Honolulu, playing running back and wide receiver.
He thought he would remain on the offensive side of the ball once he entered college, however that didn't work out the way he planned.
Hilliard ended up in the defensive backfield. Not something he was thrilled with, but he made the most of it.
"When I came in, Rahim (Moore) was the only free safety, so I said 'Being in the two-deep (on the depth chart) freshman year isn't too bad of a spot.' I felt like I was an athlete enough to go over there and try to play defense for the first time ever," Hilliard said. "I enjoyed it. It was a great run over there."
Hilliard was supposed to have his time to shine last spring after Moore departed for the NFL but he missed all of spring drills after undergoing knee surgery.
Last season, he played in 13 games for the Bruins and recorded 50 tackles. This spring, he finds himself playing running back for new head coach Jim Mora.
So far, he's been one of the surprise players of spring drills.
"It's going well," said Hilliard of his transition to running back. "Considering I (spent) three years of playing college football playing backwards, basically, and all of a sudden going forward is a little different.
"I'm proud of myself. I'm trying to run as hard as a I can and do everything the coaches tell me to. I still have a lot of work to do but I think it will come over time."
The staff likes what they see.
"He has some skills. He has some toughness, so it's just a matter of him transitioning over with the ball security part and all those little fundamental things," said running backs coach Steve Broussard. "He cares. It means something to him so he'll clean it up."
Pass blocking, ball security, and pad level are all things that Hilliard has to get re-acclimated to. In the process, he still has one eye on the defensive backfield. He's trying to become the next two-way player to wear a Bruins uniform.
"Hopefully once fall ball comes around, I can maybe go back to defense a little bit too," Hilliard said. "I want to try and do the ironman thing. We'll see what Coach Mora says about it. He's still up in the air about it.
"It's something I definitely want to do."
Playing both ways is something he talked to former UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel about but it never came to fruition because of the knee surgery that kept him out of spring practice last year.
Before spring ball started, Mora listed the defensive backfield as a concern. Hilliard, who has already digested a good amount of the defensive playbook, feels he can help.
"We're running thin, especially at safety," Hilliard said. "I really feel for those guys because they're low on numbers and I feel like I can really contribute to the defense still. We have a lot of talented running backs so I feel like if I can get a few plays in on offense, I can still, hopefully, help out the defense."
The last Bruin to play on both sides of the ball was Brian Price in 2009. Price was a full-time defensive tackle, who also played some fullback, per the UCLA athletic department.
Mora says he's not leaning one way or the other when it comes to Hilliard playing on both sides of the ball.
"I'm still thinking about it," Mora said. "If he can help us both ways then we'll use him on both sides of the ball. If we think he's only a running back, we'll (keep) him at running back. If he looks like maybe we need to move him back to safety, then we'll move him back to safety. Right now he's doing a good job where he is."
For this spring at least, Hilliard can only look at the other side of the ball as his opposition.
"Right now they're my enemy, but hopefully in the fall I can be back over there joining those white shirts," Hilliard said. "It's not a closed book for me. I hope to go over there and contribute a little bit more on defense.
"(It's my) last year, I want to do whatever I can to help this team win and leave UCLA on a good note."