Newnan's Drew Hill dies at 54

FROM STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS sports@newnan.com Drew Hill, a standout three-sport athlete at Newnan High who went on to successful football careers both at Georgia Tech and in the NFL as a wide receiver, died late Friday night at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta after suffering two strokes earlier this week. He was 54. Funeral arrangements were still pending as of Saturday afternoon.
Hill, one of the Coweta Sports Hall of Fame's inaugural inductees in 2003, was first known as 'Andrew' growing up while attending Newnan High in the early 1970s, where he played running back, receiver and quarterback for legendary Newnan High football coach Max Bass. He equally excelled on the basketball court as a point guard and ran track, before choosing to play football at Georgia Tech, where Hill set school records for his kickoff return prowess. The Newnan native earned his way onto an NFL roster as a then 12th-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Rams in 1979, playing as a rookie in the Super Bowl. Hill went on to play for an impressive 14 years in the league, including seven with the Houston Oilers and his final two as a member of the Atlanta Falcons. "Drew Hill was born into abject poverty, but was able to pull himself out of it due to his athletic ability and being able to work hard," said Bass Friday night after learning Hill in critical condition. Hill, an avid golfer who went into private business in Atlanta after retirement, was admitted to the hospital on Thursday after becoming ill while playing golf. A report by Len Pasquarelli of cbssports.com stated he was diagnosed with high blood pressure, and was released. He later experienced headaches and was re-admitted. After suffering what appeared to be two massive strokes, Hill had been put on life support. After finishing his three-sport varsity career at Newnan, Hill set school records at Georgia Tech for most career kickoff returns (98), most career yardage on returns (2,357), most kickoffs returned for touchdowns (2) and best kickoff return average (25.4). He remains tied for 15th among receiving yards for a season (708, 1978) and fourth in yards per reception for a career (19.3) having played with the Yellow Jackets from 1975-78. His single season records include most kickoffs returned for touchdowns (2 in 1978), best kickoff return average (30 in 1978) and most kickoffs returned in one game (7 against Notre Dame in 1977). Hill spent his first five seasons with the Rams as a sure target, but never caught more than 19 passes. But his fame rose as a member of Houston's 'run-and-shoot offense with the Oilers, led by NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon. "I'm shocked," Moon told the Houston Chronicle upon hearing the news of Hill's death. "I can't believe it. Drew meant so much to us as a player and as a person. I counted on him so much. He was the consummate professional. It's just so sad." Hill, who played inside receiver, thrived in the run-and-shoot after being acquired from the Rams for a pair of low draft choices. In 1985, his first season with the Oilers, Hill had 64 receptions for 1,169 yards (18.3 average per catch) and nine touchdowns. In his seven seasons with the Oilers (1985-1991), Hill had at least 1,000 yards five times and made the Pro Bowl both in 1988 and 1990. By the time Hill retired following two final years back in his home state with the Falcons, Hill ranked among the top-50 receivers all time among statistics. He was equally a gentleman off the field. "Hill always had a big smile," wrote veteran Houston sportswriter John McClain on his NFL blog with the Chronicle. "He was genuine, a class act, always polite. He treated everyone well." In most recent years, Hill may have paved the road to the NFL for at least eight other players from Coweta County that have played pro football since 1996, including some who went undrafted. The current NFL Draft format includes only seven rounds, compared to 12. "People don't realize that Drew Hill was a 12th round draft pick," said Vernon Strickland in a 2008 interview with the Times-Herald. Like Hill, Strickland went on to play at Georgia Tech before making the San Francisco 49ers roster as an undrafted rookie, before eventually getting his law degree at Mercer. "The NFL only has seven rounds now. It's not so much about where you're drafted. But (it's) what you make of the opportunity." (Times-Herald sports writers Tommy Camp and Chris Goltermann contributed to this story)


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