FLORENCE, Ala. -- Harlon Hill, a former football All-American at the University of North Alabama, a National Football League Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player with the Chicao Bears and the namesake for the Division II College Football Player of the Year award, passed away Thursday. He was 80.
"We are truly saddened by the news of the passing of Harlon Hill," said Jeff Hodges, Chairman of the National Harlon Hill Award Committee and Assistant Athletic Director for Communications at the University of North Alabama. "He was a legend and an inspiration to so many. In our 27-year relationship with the Hill Trophy, Harlon was always very gracious and humbled that his story and legacy could be used to inspire new generations of student-athletes to excel and dream of what they could accomplish. I think he was as appreciative that he was a part of the creation of an award program that honored Division II athletes as he was that his name was on the trophy.."
A native of Killen, Ala., Hill was born: May 4, 1932 and graduated from Lauderdale County High School and the University of North Alabama, then Florence State Teachers College, with a B.S. Degree in Education in 1955. He also earned a Masters Degree in Education from UNA in 1969.
He was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the 15th round (174th overall) of the 1954 NFL Draft and earned Rookie of the Year honors in 1954 after catching 45 passes for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns. In 1955 he became the first recipient of the Jim Thorpe Trophy as the NFL Rookie of the Year.
In all he played nine seasons in the National Football League (1954-62) with the Chicago Bears, Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions.
Following his professional football career he became a public school teacher and coach at Brooks High School in Killen, Ala., eventually becoming the school’s principal.
In 1986 he became the namesake for the Harlon Hill Trophy, presented annually to the NCAA Division II College Football Player of the Year. The award has been presented for the last 27 years in December on the eve of the Division II Football Championship Game in Florence.
Hill was inducted into the Lauderdale County Sports Hall of Fame, the University of North Alabama Athletic Hall of Fame, the Helms Athletic Foundation Hall of Fame and the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
More than 50 years after his playing career ended in Chicago, Hill’s 4,616 receiving yards still rank second best in Bears history, as do his 40 career TD receptions. His 19 career 100-yard receiving games are still the most by any Bears receiver. His four receiving TDs in a game against the San Francisco 49ers on October 31, 1954 is tied for Bears record with Mike Dikta and his 214 receiving yards in that game is still a Bears record.