Harlon Hill

Harlon Junius Hill (May 4, 1932 – March 21, 2013)[1] was an American football player and later coach and educator. Hill played nine seasons in the National Football League (NFL) with the Chicago Bears, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Detroit Lions.[2] He was the NFL Rookie of the Year in 1954 and winner of the Jim Thorpe Trophy as the NFL Player of the Year in 1955.[2] The Harlon Hill Trophy, named in his honor, is awarded annually to the nation's best NCAA Division II football player.[3]

Harlon Hill
refer to caption
Hill on a 1955 Bowman football card
No. 87, 82
Position:End
Personal information
Born:May 4, 1932
Killen, Alabama
Died:March 21, 2013 (aged 80)
Florence, Alabama
Height:6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)
Weight:199 lb (90 kg)
Career information
High school:Rogersville (AL) Lauderdale
College:North Alabama
NFL Draft:1954 / Round: 15 / Pick: 174
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Receptions:233
Receiving yards:4,717
Receiving touchdowns:40
Player stats at NFL.com
Player stats at PFR

Early life and college

Hill was born in Killen, Alabama. Following graduation from Lauderdale County High School in nearby Rogersville in 1949,[4] he attended Florence State Teachers College, now known as the University of North Alabama. Football was just making its return to Florence State in 1949 after several years absence due to low male enrollment,[5] and Hill was a four-year letterman on the team while also earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Education.[4] He played both offense and defense for the team, but it was his offensive efforts that saw him named an NAIA All-American player in his senior year, 1953.[4] As with many college teams of the era, Florence State was a run-based offense and threw the ball sparingly. However, Hill made the most of his chances with 19 of his 54 career catches going for touchdowns.[5] In his 1977 biography Victory after the Game, Hill related his surprise at being selected in the 15th round of the 1954 NFL draft by the Chicago Bears, remaining unaware of it until approached with the news by a Florence State professor on campus: '"I had no idea I had been `discovered.' I really did not know much about the National Football League...I did not know what to think, but after I found out what it was all about, naturally I was elated."[5] Hill went on to say he owed the discovery to a rival school. A coach for Jacksonville State University had observed Hill's play over four seasons and mentioned him to a Bears scout.[5]

Professional career

Hill's rookie season with the Chicago Bears was a memorable one. He set a team record for most receiving yards (1,124) and most touchdown receptions (12) by a rookie.[4] The twelve touchdowns led all NFL receivers that season as he averaged 25 yards per catch on 45 total receptions[3] His best performance that rookie year came on October 31, 1954 against the San Francisco 49ers. Hill was a Halloween nightmare for the 49ers defense, racking up 214 receiving yards and four touchdowns,[4] the final one coming with thirty seconds left in the game to give the Bears a four-point victory.[5] Numerous accolades came Hill's way following that season, among them being named 1954 NFL Rookie of the Year, being an All-Pro selection, and participating in the 1954 Pro Bowl.

Hill's performance numbers were down somewhat the next season, 1955, with 789 yards on 42 receptions.[4] However his nine touchdown catches again led the league[3] and he was once again selected All-Pro and Pro-Bowl participant. The 1955 season also saw Hill be the first ever recipient of the Jim Thorpe Trophy as NFL most valuable player. 1956 would prove to be Hill's career best statistically with 47 catches, 1,128 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns as the Bears advanced to the NFL Championship Game against the New York Giants. Hill and the Bears were beaten soundly, 47-7, on a very icy Yankee Stadium field. After the season Hill was voted an All-NFL 1st team player by numerous media including the Associated Press, United Press, and the Sporting News.[4] He was chosen Captain of the Western Conference squad for the 1956 Pro Bowl game, which lost in a close affair, 31-30.

Injuries began to take their toll on Hill's NFL career in the late 1950s. The most serious one being a completely severed Achilles tendon in 1958. According to Hill he was the first professional athlete to recover from the surgical repair and continue his career.[5] The injury robbed him of much of his speed however and his offensive numbers steadily declined, with his last touchdown reception coming in the 1959 season. By 1961, his final year as a Bear, he managed only three catches for 51 yards on the season. Hill attempted to play again in the 1962 season, splitting time between the Steelers and Lions and accumulating 101 receiving yards on 14 catches. He retired from football at the conclusion of the 1962 season.[3] Hill still holds several franchise records with the Bears and ranks among the best in others. His nineteen games with 100 or more receiving yards are still a record as are his 1,124 rookie receiving yards and 12 rookie touchdown catches.[4] The four touchdown receptions in one game (San Francisco, 1954) are tied with Mike Ditka for team lead all-time. His career 4,616 receiving yards and 40 career touchdown receptions (32 of them coming in a 3 year span from 1954 through 1956) rank him second best all-time for Chicago.

The Professional Football Researchers Association named Hill to the PRFA Hall of Very Good Class of 2014[6]

Franchise records

As of 2019's NFL off-season, Harlon Hill held at least 15 Bears franchise records, including:

  • Most Receiving Yds (rookie season): 1,124 (1954)
  • Most Receiving Yds (game, as a rookie): 214 (1954-10-31 @SFO)
  • Most Yds/Rec (career): 20.42
  • Most Yds/Rec (season): 24.98 (1954)
  • Most Yds/Rec (rookie season): 24.98 (1954)
  • Most Receiving TDs (career): 40
  • Most Receiving TDs (game): 4 (1954-10-31 @SFO)
  • Most Receiving TDs (rookie season): 12 (1954; tied with Mike Ditka)
  • Most Receiving TDs (game, as a rookie): 4 (1954-10-31 @SFO)
  • Most Rec Yds/Game (rookie season): 93.7 (1954)
  • Most Yds from Scrimmage (game, as a rookie): 214 (1954-10-31 @SFO)
  • Most 100+ yard receiving games (career): 19
  • Most 100+ yard receiving games (season): 7 (1954; tied with Jeff Graham and Brandon Marshall)
  • Most 100+ yard receiving games (rookie season): 7
  • Most 1000+ receiving yard seasons: 2 (one of five players)

Life after the NFL

Hill returned to his native Alabama when his playing days were finished. He fought a successful battle against alcoholism[5] and returned to his alma mater (then known as Florence State Teachers College), serving as an assistant football coach for the University of North Alabama in the late 1960s while also working toward a Master's degree in Education. After earning his Master's in 1969[3] he became a public school teacher and coach at Brooks High School, eventually becoming the school's principal. In 1986 a new award was created to highlight America's best NCAA Division II players, named the Harlon Hill Trophy in honor of his playing career.[4] Often considered the Division II equivalent of the Heisman Trophy, it is awarded annually during the NCAA Division II Football Championship weekend in Florence, Alabama.[7] Hill retired from the Lauderdale County, Alabama, school system and resided in Alabama until his death. Hill died March 21, 2013, at Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital in Florence, Alabama, following a prolonged illness.[2]

References

  1. ^ "Former NFL MVP Harlon Hill dies". wbir.com. Archived from the original on April 12, 2013. Retrieved March 22, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c "Ex-Bears WR Harlon Hill dies at 80". Associated Press via ESPN-Chicago website. March 21, 2013. Retrieved March 23, 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Harlon Hil, All-Pro receiver with Chicago Bears, dies at 80". The Washington Post via website. March 22, 2013. Retrieved March 23, 2013.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Who is Harlon Hill?". Harlon Hill Trophy Official Website. 2003. Retrieved March 23, 2013.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Purvis, Jimmy (1990). "The Coffin Corner: Harlon Hill" (PDF). Pro Football Researchers.com. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 18, 2010. Retrieved March 23, 2013.
  6. ^ "Professional Researchers Association Hall of Very Good Class of 2014". Retrieved November 10, 2016.
  7. ^ "How The Winner is Selected". National Harlon Hill Awards Committee. Retrieved December 9, 2009.
1987 NCAA Division II football season

The 1987 NCAA Division II football season, part of college football in the United States organized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association at the Division II level, began in August 1987, and concluded with the NCAA Division II Football Championship on December 12, 1987, at Braly Municipal Stadium in Florence, Alabama, hosted by the University of North Alabama. The Troy State Trojans defeated the Portland State Vikings, 31–17, to win their second Division II national title.The Harlon Hill Trophy was awarded to Johnny Bailey, running back from Texas A&I.

1991 NCAA Division II football season

The 1991 NCAA Division II football season, part of college football in the United States organized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association at the Division II level, began in August 1991, and concluded with the NCAA Division II Football Championship on December 14, 1991, at Braly Municipal Stadium in Florence, Alabama, hosted by the University of North Alabama. The Pittsburg State Gorillas defeated the Jacksonville State Gamecocks, 23–6, to win their first Division II national title.The Harlon Hill Trophy was awarded to Ronnie West, wide receiver from Pittsburg State.

1992 NCAA Division II football season

The 1992 NCAA Division II football season, part of college football in the United States organized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association at the Division II level, began in August 1992, and concluded with the NCAA Division II Football Championship on December 12, 1992, at Braly Municipal Stadium in Florence, Alabama, hosted by the University of North Alabama. The Jacksonville State Gamecocks defeated the Pittsburg State Gorillas, 17–13, to win their first Division II national title.The Harlon Hill Trophy was awarded to Ronald Moore, running back from Pittsburg State.

1994 NCAA Division II football season

The 1994 NCAA Division II football season, part of college football in the United States organized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association at the Division II level, began on September 3, 1994, and concluded with the NCAA Division II Football Championship on December 10, 1994, at Braly Municipal Stadium in Florence, Alabama, hosted by the University of North Alabama.

North Alabama defeated Texas A&M–Kingsville in the championship game, 16–10, to win their second consecutive Division II national title.The Harlon Hill Trophy was awarded to Chris Hatcher, quarterback from Valdosta State.

1996 NCAA Division II football season

The 1996 NCAA Division II football season, part of college football in the United States organized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association at the Division II level, began on September 7, 1996, and concluded with the NCAA Division II Football Championship on December 14, 1996, at Braly Municipal Stadium in Florence, Alabama, hosted by the University of North Alabama. The Northern Colorado Bears defeated the Carson–Newman, 23–14, to win their first Division II national title.The Harlon Hill Trophy was awarded to Jarrett Anderson, running back from Truman.

1997 NCAA Division II football season

The 1997 NCAA Division II football season, part of college football in the United States organized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association at the Division II level, began on September 6, 1997, and concluded with the NCAA Division II Football Championship on December 13, 1997, at Braly Municipal Stadium in Florence, Alabama, hosted by the University of North Alabama.

Northern Colorado defeated New Haven in the championship game, 51–0, to win their second Division II national title.The Harlon Hill Trophy was awarded to Irvin Sigler, running back from Bloomsburg.

1998 NCAA Division II football season

The 1998 NCAA Division II football season, part of college football in the United States organized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association at the Division II level, began on September 5, 1998, and concluded with the NCAA Division II Football Championship on December 12, 1998, at Braly Municipal Stadium in Florence, Alabama, hosted by the University of North Alabama. The Northwest Missouri State Bearcats defeated the Carson–Newman, 24–6, to win their first Division II national title.The Harlon Hill Trophy was awarded to Brian Shay, running back from Emporia State.

1999 NCAA Division II football season

The 1999 NCAA Division II football season, part of college football in the United States organized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association at the Division II level, began on August 28, 1999, and concluded with the NCAA Division II Football Championship on December 11, 1999, at Braly Municipal Stadium in Florence, Alabama, hosted by the University of North Alabama.

Northwest Missouri State defeated Carson–Newman in the championship game, 58–52 after four overtimes, to win their second Division II national title.The Harlon Hill Trophy was awarded to Corte McGuffey, quarterback from Northern Colorado.

2000 NCAA Division II football season

The 2000 NCAA Division II football season, part of college football in the United States organized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association at the Division II level, began on September 2, 2000, and concluded with the NCAA Division II Football Championship on December 9, 2000 at Braly Municipal Stadium in Florence, Alabama, hosted by the University of North Alabama. The Delta State Statesmen defeated the Bloomsburg Huskies, 63–34, to win their first Division II national title.The Harlon Hill Trophy was awarded to Dusty Bonner, quarterback from Valdosta State.

2001 NCAA Division II football season

The 2001 NCAA Division II football season, part of college football in the United States organized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association at the Division II level, began on August 30, 2001, and concluded with the NCAA Division II Football Championship on December 8, 2001 at Braly Municipal Stadium in Florence, Alabama, hosted by the University of North Alabama.

North Dakota defeated Grand Valley State in the championship game, 17–14, to win their first Division II national title.The Harlon Hill Trophy was awarded to Dusty Bonner, quarterback from Valdosta State, his second consecutive Hill Trophy.

2002 NCAA Division II football season

The 2002 NCAA Division II football season, part of college football in the United States organized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association at the Division II level, began on September 7, 2002, and concluded with the NCAA Division II Football Championship on December 14, 2002 at Braly Municipal Stadium in Florence, Alabama, hosted by the University of North Alabama. The Grand Valley State Lakers defeated the Valdosta State Blazers, 31–24, to win their first Division II national title.The Harlon Hill Trophy was awarded to Curt Anes, quarterback from Grand Valley State.

2003 NCAA Division II football season

The 2003 NCAA Division II football season, part of college football in the United States organized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association at the Division II level, began on September 6, 2003, and concluded with the NCAA Division II Football Championship on December 13, 2003 at Braly Municipal Stadium in Florence, Alabama, hosted by the University of North Alabama. The Grand Valley State Lakers defeated the North Dakota Fighting Sioux, 10–3, to win their second Division II national title.The Harlon Hill Trophy was awarded to Will Hall, quarterback from North Alabama.

2012 NCAA Division II football season

The 2012 NCAA Division II football season, part of college football in the United States organized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association at the Division II level, began on September 1, 2012, and concluded with the NCAA Division II Football Championship on December 15, 2012 at Braly Municipal Stadium in Florence, Alabama, hosted by the University of North Alabama. The Valdosta State Blazers defeated the Winston-Salem State Rams, 35–7, to win their third Division II national title.It proved to be the final season for the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WVIAC). Shortly before the start of the 2012–13 school year, the WVIAC's nine football-playing members announced plans to break away and form a new league. Before the new conference was announced, one of the nine breakaway schools (Seton Hill) chose instead to join the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference; the remaining eight schools joined with three other football-playing schools and one non-football WVIAC member left out of the original split. The new league, officially unveiled in August 2012 as the Mountain East Conference, began play in 2013.

The Harlon Hill Trophy was awarded to Zach Zulli, quarterback from Shippensburg.

Brian Shay

Brian Shay (born February 22, 1977) is a former American football running back, who played for the Emporia State Hornets from 1995 to 1998. While at Emporia State, Shay broke various NCAA records and was the Harlon Hill Trophy winner in 1998. Shay is one of the all-time rushing leaders in the NCAA Division II.

Corte McGuffey

Corte McGuffey is a former quarterback for the New York/New Jersey Hitmen of the XFL. In 1999, he won the Harlon Hill Trophy for Player of the Year in NCAA Division II.McGuffey is now a dentist.

Dennis Gardeck

Dennis Gardeck (born August 9, 1994) is an American football linebacker for the Arizona Cardinals of the National Football League (NFL). He played college football at the University of Sioux Falls, where he was a nominee for the Harlon Hill Trophy and was a finalist for the Cliff Harris Award. He was signed by the Cardinals as an undrafted free agent in 2018. Gardeck attended Crystal Lake South High School in Crystal Lake, Illinois.

Dusty Bonner

Dusty Bonner (born October 27, 1978) is a former American football quarterback. He was a standout Harlon Hill Trophy winner in 2000 and 2001 while playing for Valdosta State University, and was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2002 by the Atlanta Falcons.

Harlon Hill Trophy

The Harlon Hill Trophy is an award in American college football given to the individual selected as the most valuable player in NCAA Division II. The award is named for former University of North Alabama and National Football League player Harlon Hill. It was first given in 1986 to Jeff Bentrim of North Dakota State University. It is often considered to be the Division II equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.

Ronald McKinnon

Ronald McKinnon (born September 20, 1973) is a former American football linebacker in the National Football League. He was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by the Arizona Cardinals out of the University of North Alabama where he won three Division II National Championships. He was the winner of 1995 Harlon Hill Trophy (Division II's equivalent to the Heisman Trophy). He played for the Cardinals from 1996-2004. He also played one season for the New Orleans Saints.

In 2008, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

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