Peyton Hillis runs the ball in the second half of...

Peyton Hillis runs the ball in the second half of a game against the Minnesota Vikings at MetLife Stadium. (Oct. 21, 2013) Credit: Jim McIsaac

Peyton Hillis once rushed for 1,177 yards, was a video game cover boy and became an instant star in the NFL. But the running back never did make it to the Pro Bowl.

Now that he's here with the Giants, a seldom-used third-stringer for the latest team in a trail of franchises as his career winds down, it's probably too late for him to make the All-Star squad for his offensive skills.

But he thinks he may have found another route.

Hillis said his aim this year is to represent the Giants in the Pro Bowl as a special-teamer.

"It's a goal, it's a hefty goal," he told Newsday this past week. "It's more than likely not going to happen, but that's why you set goals for yourself. To try to achieve the impossible."

If Hillis continues to play the way he has for the last two weeks, the impossible might become reality. He's had a thunderous hit on kickoff returners in each of the past two games, sparking the defense with the physicality of his play.

Where he once tried to avoid contact and elude tacklers, now his job is to hit people and bring down ballcarriers. It's a position he'd never been asked to play in his NFL career but one he was eager to try.

"Run down there, create havoc and hit somebody," he said of the description presented to him. "That's all you had to tell me and I'll raise my hand for that job . . . It's fun. Football in general is just fun. I'm just trying to go out and do what I can to help the team win."

That's a refreshing tone for a player who once was termed "toxic" by former Browns teammate Joe Thomas.

Hillis couldn't stick with the Chiefs or the Bucs and came to the Giants last year only when they had exhausted nearly all of their other options at running back and he had just about given up on another chance in the NFL.

Since his arrival, he's been anything but poison to this team. That he has been willing to play on special teams shows just how willing he is to pitch in.

"I've kind of found out that things in life come full circle anyway," the former seventh-round pick said of his humble beginnings before his meteoric rise. "That's where I began was special teams and it's probably where I'm going to end up is special teams. I try to embrace that and try to do the best I can at it."

Last week Hillis got his first carries as a running back, mopping up in the fourth quarter of a blowout win in Washington. Who knows when his next carries will come? He said he's come to terms with that reality.

"Do I miss it? Of course I do," he said of being an every-down starting running back. "Is there anything I can do about it? I don't think so. I think they have me at that position on this team for a reason, so I look at it and try to embrace it the best I can. I'm very blessed to even have a job and even be on a team. I tip my hat to coach [Tom] Coughlin and Mr. [Jerry] Reese and Mr. [John] Mara for even giving me this opportunity. I'm going to try to do the best I can wherever they put me at."

His best has been pretty good. Two weeks ago against Houston, after a Giants touchdown, he made a second-quarter tackle that pinned the Texans at their 18, nearly de-cleating the returner. They went three-and-out. Last week he made a punishing tackle at the 15. The Redskins went three-and-out.

More and more, his tackles are becoming not just special-teams plays but special plays -- tone-setters for the defense.

"That's huge," cornerback Prince Amukamara said. "It's another momentum-booster. When he bruised that guy [from Washington], any time there's a big hit like that, we all get excited."

"What's better than scoring a touchdown and then watching your [guy] go down and smash the returner inside the 15?" special-teams captain Zak DeOssie said. "He's doing it well. When we have a deep kickoff in the corner, that's the epitome of how it should be played. He's just a missile."

As for the Pro Bowl, that remains in the distance. He has only those two tackles, as impressive as they were. And with no more kickoff runbacks in the fan-friendly version of the Pro Bowl, there wouldn't be much for him to do if he made it there. But he plans to keep chugging along, sprinting under kickoffs and flinging his body around in what likely is the final stanza of his career.

"I just care about the guys on the team," he said. "I've really come to love every one of these guys. I think we're really team-oriented and I think we can actually go somewhere big this year."

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