March 19, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
Drew Hill passed away Saturday and Georgia Tech will be the lesser for it, but only for a brief time because grief eventually will give way to his legend on The Flats. There, a mole hill of a boy transformed itself into a mountain of a man.
He was a little guy when he arrived in 1975, a 5-foot-9, 168-pound, cat-quick lad who saw quickly there was no room.
“I came to Georgia Tech as a running back in the wishbone with [coach] Pepper Rodgers,” Hill told me last fall before he served as honorary captain before the Middle Tennessee State game. “I knew with all the good running backs we had I couldn’t get much playing time behind Eddie Lee Ivery and those cats.”
So he became a wide receiver.
That was good and bad for Hill.
First, the bad, sort of: Pepper didn’t do the pass, at least not much. Hill led the team in receptions in ’77 with . . . seven. Tech attempted just 68 passes that season.
Who could have known that the little guy from Newnan would go on to spend 14 years in the NFL, and land in the Tech Hall of Fame in 1998?
Hill’s senior season of ’78 was a different story. The Jackets passed a great deal more with freshman quarterback Mike Kelly; here came the good.
He caught 36 passes with a 19.7-yard average as a senior, but when the Los Angeles Rams drafted him in the 12th-round pick in ’79 it was largely because he was an outstanding return man. His name is still all over the Tech record books for that reason.
His welcome to the NFL was rude.
“I remember [former Falcons cornerback] Roland Lawrence . . . I threw low at him once, and he said, `Drew, don’t be throwing at my knees; I got a bad wheel.’ ” Hill recalled. “Soon, I ran an out [route], and [Rams quarterback] Vince Ferragamo throw it behind me, and Roland knocked me about 10 yards out.”
Traded to the Houston Oilers in ’84, Hill’s career took off with Warren Moon throwing the ball as the run-and-shoot offense was a perfect fit.
In seven seasons with Houston, he caught 480 passes for 7,477 yards, an average of 15.5 yards per catch. He went over 1,000 receiving yards four times in that span. He closed his NFL career with two seasons spent in Atlanta, with the Falcons, catching 94 more passes for 1,007 yards over the ’92 and ’93 seasons.
You’re no fluke, no niche performer, when you catch 634 passes for 9,931 yards and 60 touchdowns in the NFL, and leave the league with 13,332 combined yards.
In talking with Drew Hill, it was easy to see even nearly two decades after his playing career ended the root of his success. He believed in himself, and strongly. Hill was proud of himself, and proud that Tech honored him last fall.
Whether it be at football, the classroom or in life, Drew Hill brought to Tech a indefatigable spirit that stands still as a monument to human possibility.
Thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.