CLEVELAND -- Peyton Hillis has been dragging cars and all-terrain vehicles around the streets back home in Arkansas to stay in shape during the NFL lockout.
Photo gallery: Hillis' 'Madden' cover shoot
"Yeah, I'm going to give it a try," Hillis said Friday night. "We're going to have a good time doing it."
Hillis is ready for some football.
Before joining his Cleveland teammates in Texas for a weekend camp -- dubbed "Camp Colt IV" for Browns quarterback Colt McCoy -- Hillis hosted his own camp Saturday for more than 300 area kids, some of whom will be on board the fire truck he will harness himself to and attempt to lug for a few yards. Based on what Hillis did last season for the Browns, the emergency vehicle doesn't stand a chance.
Not only did he rush for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2010, the handsome, soft-spoken Hillis became an overnight sports icon in a city left reeling by the departure of NBA superstar LeBron James, whose nationally televised "Decision" celebrated a one-year anniversary on Friday with zero fanfare. Hillis has helped fill the void left by James, now viewed as a villain in Cleveland.
Hillis is the new folk hero.
With overwhelming help from the Browns' passionate fan base this offseason, Hillis was voted as the cover figure for "Madden NFL 12," the wildly popular video game. He beat out Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick in the final, a victory that was followed by an appearance on David Letterman and more publicity than the Conway, Ark., native could have ever imagined.
It's been a whirlwind, but Hillis has been able to keep things in perspective. Nothing has gone to his head.
"It's all pretty much been the same," he said of the past few months. "It might change a little bit when I get back in Cleveland and settle down. But being in Arkansas, in the middle of nowhere, it hasn't changed that much. That's the way I like it, though. I've been very blessed. It's surreal. I just have to keep doing what I'm doing."
Hillis has done his best to stay clear of the NFL labor rhetoric, preferring to work out at home with his buddies, who have helped him with his regimen of pulling cars, trucks and ATVs around town.
"I feel like I've been doing what I need to be doing to make me better at the game," he said of his unorthodox training methods.
On Friday night, Hillis charmed sponsors of the camp he will host at Cleveland's St. Ignatius High School during a dinner at the Ritz-Carlton also attended by Browns safety T.J. Ward and running back Montario Hardesty, who missed last season with a knee injury but who, if healthy, could give Cleveland a 1-2 combination in the offensive backfield to rival any team.
Hillis gladly signed autographs and took photos with anyone who asked. He even obliged a request to do Arkansas' famous war cry and belted out, "Woooooo. Pig! Sooie! Razorbacks."
"Run the ball," he said, smiling.
Hillis has stayed on top of the NFL labor talks, but hasn't let them become distracting.
"I don't put too much thought into it because it's out of my control," he said. "I'm preparing in my own head and my whole state of mind for the season -- whenever that is."
Hillis has attended two of the Browns' workouts in Austin, Texas, where McCoy played college ball and makes his offseason home. Hillis said the get togethers, which will include defensive players for the first time this weekend, have been productive.
"They've been really good, especially for the young guys to get to meet the older guys and get in the groove of things," he said.
Hillis, who wasn't expected to be Cleveland's primary back heading into last season, revealed he played the final three games with broken ribs, an injury he was determined not to slow him down.
"I just wanted to do everything I could for the city of Cleveland last year," he said. "People around here have been so good to me. That's the kind of guy I am."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press