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Jim Weber

Catching up with Randal Hill: From 'The U' to the Feds

Jim Weber
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Jim Weber runs LostLettermen.com, a site devoted to keeping tabs on former players and other nostalgia. This week, he tracks down former Miami star turned federal agent Randal Hill.

Between the finger-wagging, the media had their fun with Miami during the Hurricanes' heyday in the late '80s, when The U's penchant for winning national titles (four from 1983-91) was matched for its reputation for having no respect for rules, laws or authority of any kind.

Miami was so good and so bad at the same time, went the joke, that it topped the polls of the AP, UPI, SI and FBI. How do the Hurricanes take their team picture? From the front, then to the side. When their rivalry with Notre Dame hit a national note in 1988, the label was inevitable: "Catholics vs. Convicts."

One of the most flamboyant 'Canes of the "U" era was wide receiver Randal Hill, whose post-football career track has led him down the only logical path: To that of a federal agent for the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Yes, he passed the background check.

"The biggest part of it is background, making sure you are a person who is upstanding, staying out of trouble," Hill said last week of the process involved before he became an agent in 2003. "Contrary to what you used to see me do on the field."

He knows the job isn't exactly what you'd expect from the hot dog they called "Thrill Hill," a 5-10, 180-pound wide receiver with a huge chip on his shoulder to go along with his blazing speed.

[Another big career change: From stay-at-home dad to starting QB]

If Hill didn't personify the "convicts" half of the equation – he was the son of a high school principal and an elementary school teacher – he was front and center when it came to swagger. He told reporters he dreamed of running with cheetahs and being pulled over by police for speeding on foot. He was so fast, he said, he needed to run with a parachute to slow him down, like a drag car. During a 1990 game at Cal, Hill threw his arms into the air after each of his six first-half catches and embarked on a high-stepping celebration that, well, can't be really described in words. (Good thing it's on YouTube.) The "dance" earned him a postgame reprimand from Miami's athletic director and then-coach Dennis Erickson, but Hill loved the spotlight, and the crowd at the Orange Bowl loved him:

And then, of course, there was Hill's last collegiate game: The infamous 1991 Cotton Bowl, the best (or worst, depending on who you ask) of Miami football.

[Related: The U's 10 most notorious moments]

On a day in which the Hurricanes set a bowl record for penalties – 16 for 202 yards, nine of which were for unsportsmanlike conduct – and knocked out Texas' return man on the opening kickoff, Hill was the star of the show. He scored on a 48-yard touchdown pass and ran all the way up the tunnel of the Cotton Bowl, only to return firing imaginary six-shooters at the Longhorns:

Unsurprisingly, the NCAA instituted a new rule that offseason assessing a 15-yard penalty for excessive celebrations, also known as the "Miami Rule."

During a seven-year career in the NFL, Hill started looking for his next occupation by getting involved in public-speaking engagements, including speaking before several state and federal law enforcement agencies. He was so enticed that he decided to become a police officer at the Sunrise (Fla.) Police Department, and then a deputy sheriff with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. He joined the Department of Homeland Security in September of 2003.

[Video: CEO ditches financial world for unpaid coaching position]

Although the two professions appear completely unrelated, Hill sees a lot of similarities between the two.

"It's very competitive, which is like the NFL," Hill said. "You have to be a hyperactive nut, like the NFL. You have to be a go-getter, like the NFL. And you can't settle for being second best, like the NFL. The only difference with being a federal agent is that if you settle for being second best, then people's lives are in jeopardy, and you don’t want that to happen."

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As a special agent, Hill's job includes everything from financial investigations to issues of national security to busting drug lords and counterfeiters. He was part of a team that cracked down on counterfeiting at last February's Super Bowl in Miami, a game that is always full of fake tickets and merchandise.

If it sounds glamorous, don't be fooled. Hill takes special precautions as a federal agent and former high-profile athlete. He keeps a gun by his bed at night and likens it to the American Express card: "Don't leave home without it."

"The Internet is a very powerful thing," Hill said. "For example, I still get cards where fans have actually researched and looked up my address and sent cards for me to sign and send back. That's kind of scary. So you never know who's watching you, who’s trying to locate you."

On the plus side, Hill has found his crazy antics that made him such a memorable player at "The U" have helped make his new profession a little easier when working in the community.

"If I'm out in public and people bring [the 1991 Cotton Bowl] up and I tell them what I do now, they're a little more willing to help me and help the Department of Homeland Security," Hill said.

As for the criminals that make his job so demanding, they would be ill-advised to try and run from a one-time runner-up as the NFL’s Fastest Man, even though he’s now 41. Just how fast can he still fly these days? "I haven’t been timed recently," he said. "But since I work for the government, I have to say that if I did have a time, that's classified."

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Jim Weber is the founder of LostLettermen.com, a historical college football and men's basketball site that links the sports' past to the present.

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