Former Denver Broncos and San Diego State running back Ronnie Hillman died Wednesday, his family announced in a social media post. He was 31 years old.
Hillman’s family wrote on his Instagram account that he was diagnosed in August with renal medullary carcinoma, a rare and aggressive form of kidney cancer that primarily affects African Americans with sickle cell trait. He had been transferred to hospice care earlier this week.
“Ronnie transitioned quietly and peacefully today in the company of family and close friends,” the family wrote. “We as a family appreciate the prayers and kind words that have already been expressed. We ask that you allow us time to process our feelings as we prepare to put our precious RJ to rest.”
A native of Compton, Calif., Hillman went on to play at San Diego State, where he amassed more than 3,500 scrimmage yards and 38 touchdowns in his first two seasons with the team. He declared for the NFL Draft after his second season, and the Broncos selected him with their third-round pick in 2012.
In a statement Wednesday, San Diego State athletic director John David Wicker credited Hillman with helping to “resurrect” the program during his two seasons with the team. Head coach Brady Hoke called him “an Aztec for life.”
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“Although I was only able to coach him for one season, I will remember him as a great teammate and a hard worker,” Hoke said. “Ronnie always came to practice with a smile on that face and his passion for the game was contagious.”
A tiny, fast rusher, Hillman went on to play five seasons in the NFL, including four with the Broncos. He was part of the team led by Peyton Manning that won Super Bowl 50, in what was also his best season as a pro; He led Denver with 863 rushing yards and seven touchdowns during the 2015 regular season.
“Soft-spoken with a warm smile and quiet intensity, Ronnie was drafted by the Broncos in 2012 and has become a dynamic player and highly respected teammate,” the Broncos said in a statement. “Ronnie will be remembered as our organization sends its deepest sympathies and condolences to the Hillman family during this difficult time.”
Hillman then had brief stints with the Minnesota Vikings and then the San Diego Chargers in 2016. He retired after spending part of the 2017 preseason with the Dallas Cowboys.
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