Harlon Hill, a legendary pro football player from Alabama and the namesake for the NCAA Division II player of the year award, died Thursday, according to WHNT-TV in Huntsville, Ala. 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."
Hill, who was born in Killen, Ala., in 1932, attended the University of North Alabama and was drafted in 1954 by the Chicago Bears.
He won the first NFL Rookie of the Year Award in 1955 by catching 45 passes for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns. His nine-season career (1954-62) also included stints with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Detroit Lions. His 4,616 career receiving yards in Chicago are the second best total in Bears history.
He became the namesake of the Division II title trophy in 1986. The award is annually presented prior to the Division II Championship Game in Florence, Ala.