Former Highlands, A&I standout kept nose to grindstone in career
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As his youngest son is set to begin his final year of college football, Highlands alum David Hill is feeling the tug of his hometown.
“I’m starting to think I want to retire in Texas,” said Hill, who played 12 years in the National Football League. “I wish I had (moved there) when I was playing. Gary (Green, his first cousin) did it when he was with Kansas City. He played there, but his home was in Texas.”
After decades in California, that metaphorical pull on his sleeve is not the only influence involved. Green, Sam Houston High School’s football coach, would like to see his first cousin return to the place where he grew up and launched a playing career that took him to stints with the Detroit Lions and Los Angeles Rams.
“I still have dreams of getting the whole family back here together,” said Green, who is a year younger than the 60-year-old Hill. “We’re talking about having family reunions. There were five siblings in his family and three in ours, and lots of kids. Now, through texts and social media, they’re all keeping in touch with each other.
Green, who had a nine-year NFL career, and Hill both are in the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame. Hill was inducted last year. The vein of football success runs throughout both families, and those of their siblings.
Remarkably, 12 members of the extended family have played college football.
“For three of us to make it and play in the NFL, I think that’s impressive,” Green said. “I remember watching Green Bay when (David’s older brother) Jim played. He was about seven years older than me. It’s really exciting when someone from your family is doing that. That may have gotten us started.
“We’ve had success, and all of our boys played college football. Seeing what is possible with your own eyes, you start to believe you can get there.”
Hill’s son, Austin, is a fifth-year senior receiver at the University of Arizona who has realistic hopes to become the fourth family member to play in the NFL. He is Hill’s third son to play college football.
Seven years older than his brother, he preceded David at Texas A&I. he was the first in the family to play in the National Football League. After his graduation from Highlands and A&I (now Texas A&M-Kingsville), Jim began his professional career in the American Football League in 1968 as a defensive back for the San Diego Chargers.
After eight years in the NFL, Jim moved on to a distinguished TV career. He is the lead sports anchor at KCBS-TV in Los Angeles.
“Jim was the first to make it to the league,” David said. “I guess inspired us to continue to play. When we it came time for us to be drafted, he was quite involved when we wanted to have an agent.”
Hill and his cousin were high school rivals. Hill didn’t make it to Highlands’ varsity until his senior season, so there was just one head-to-head meeting – more or less.
“His claim to fame was that I hit my head on his knee and it knocked me dizzy,” Hill said. “That may have been my first concussion.”
Sam Houston won the game, as Green points out, but Hill’s best football was ahead of him.
“He was kind of clumsy because he was just growing,” said Green, who starred for Sam Houston ahead of an all-American career at Baylor University.
“David was a big, really slow kid at that time. He really developed at A&I. He was very strong, but he couldn’t catch up with speed. Once he was down at A&I, he caught up really fast.”
Hill played at A&I under College Football Hall of Fame coach Gil Steinke, whose last three Javelinas teams were undefeated. He was a key contributor to the first two teams, both National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics champions.
He had thought and hoped the Dallas Cowboys would come calling on NFL draft day.
“I remember the day of the draft, getting a phone call from Dallas,” Hill said. “In those days, teams would call you before the draft to see if you were interested in playing for them. Maybe they still do.
“I grew up a Dallas Cowboys fan, but they had lost to Green Bay (in October) and I was still mad at them. I didn’t tell them no, but from my hesitation, I think they assumed that maybe I didn’t want to play for them.”
Instead, it was the Detroit Lions that drafted Hill out of A&I in the second round of the 1976 draft less than 45 minutes later.
He was paired with all-pro Charlie Sanders in a two tight-end system – an innovation at the time. Their position coach was current New England Patriots coach Bill Belichek. Sanders was struggling with injuries late in his career, so Hill was pressed into service as a rookie.
“At the time, Charlie helped a lot,” Hill said. “Belichek wanted to have Charlie and I on the field at the same time. Because of Charlie, they threw the ball to the tight end a lot. That fit quite well for me. Charlie didn’t play a lot. He had nagging injuries, so I got to play a lot that first year.
“I think that probably was instrumental in getting me up to speed with NFL football.”
In seven years with the Lions, he was selected to the Pro Bowl twice.
“Looking back, I probably could have made two or three more Pro Bowls,” Hill said, indicating that a coaching change brought in Monte Clark, who held him back. “I probably never would have left Detroit, if it wasn’t for Monte Clark.”
Hill was traded to the Rams in 1983, largely to work with Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson, whose football camps Hill works annually.
“David has never been boisterous in any way. He just had a quiet demeanor on the field,” Green said. “He was all-pro two years (with Detroit) as a receiving tight end. Then he went to the Rams and quietly became the best blocking tight end in football.”
The Rams reached the 1986 NFL championship game, where they lost to the Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears on a bitterly cold day in Chicago. Hill ended his career in 1987 with 358 receptions for 4,212 yards and 28 touchdowns.
He currently works for Morongo Casino in Cabazon, Calif. as a special events coordinator. The Coronado, Calif. resi’dent also is the president of the Southern California chapter of the NFL Alumni Association.
In his proposed return to San Antonio, Hill would like to buy about 10 acres of land in the surrounding area and open a sports academy. He hopes to lineup major corporate sponsorship to the facility and have instructors who are former NFL players, like himself.
“I just want a piece of property, maybe 10 acres,” Hill said. “A place where my origins are and where my kids can feel at home. That’s basically my idea about it, although my kids are scattered all over the place right now.”
Hill feels very fortunate to have played 12 years without a major injury and that he’s still healthy enough to play a round of golf when the urge strikes, without regard for the fallout. He knows that his willingness to do what his NFL teams needed and desire to work on his game led to a long, satisfying career.
He wants his academy to be a place were similarly motivated athletes up to high school age can discover and unlock their potential.
“It may be only one out of 20,000,” Hill said, “but because he has the desire, he’s able to rise up through the ranks. If you give these kids an opportunity, a lot of them will show their desire.
“I want to help the kids who aren’t getting all the attention and going to all the camps.”
For obvious reasons, those are the athletes Hill feels the strongest connection to.
MORE TO COME
FOOTBALL FAMILY TREE
Name — High school — College — NFL team
@-Jim Hill — Highlands — Texas A&I — Green Bay
*-David Hill — Highlands — Texas A&I — Detroit, Los Angeles
@-Walter Hill — ^ — Baylor
*-Aaron Hill — ^ — Oregon St.
*-Adam Hill — ^ — West Liberty (WV)
*-Austin Hill — ^ — Arizona
+-Gary Green — Sam Houston — Baylor — Kansas City, Los Angeles
#-Tony Green — Sam Houston — Baylor
+-Gary Green II — Madison — Kansas
#-Anthony Green — Madison — Alabama A&M
#-Aaron Green — Madison — Nebraska/TCU
#-Andrew Green — Madison — Nebraska
@ – Jim Hill’s family
* – David Hill’s family
+ – Gary Green’s family
# – Tony Green’s family
^ — played high school football in California