Wide Receiver, 1997-2001
After being all but promised a starting spot as a freshman, Kahlil Hill made his commitment to the Iowa Hawkeyes, following in the footsteps of fellow City High alum Tim Dwight. After redshirting in 1997, he made an immediate impact as a redshirt freshman in 1998. He accumulated 438 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns to go along with 642 yards and three scores in the return game.
On November 22nd – the day after the final game of a disappointing 3-8 season in which he underwent cancer treatment – Head Coach Hayden Fry announced his retirement. A week and a half later, a young OL coach for the Baltimore Ravens, Kirk Ferentz, was introduced as the new head man for the Hawks.
In April of the following year, as Hill was learning the ropes with the new staff, an NCAA drug test came up positive for a banned performance-enhancing substance, later revealed to be an over-the-counter supplement that Hill’s father, former NFL wide receiver J.D. Hill, had given to Kahlil.
He was immediately suspended for the entire 1999 season, per NCAA rules. He spent his sophomore season practicing with the team, mainly on the scout team, but watched the Hawks go 1-10 in Ferentz’s first year. The team’s struggles on Saturdays nearly ended his time in Iowa City.
“Watching my team go 1-10, their only win against Northern Illinois, that hurt,” he said. “I remember one day I was at practice, in the middle of the season, and I just went home. I had to practice every day but I couldn’t play, and I just couldn’t take it anymore.
“I approached scout team like a Big Ten game, and it wasn’t transferring over to the field, and I was frustrated. It was immaturity.”
Despite not being recruited by Ferentz and his staff, they were quick to try and bring him back into the fold.
“By the time I got from the facility to home, there were 20+ messages from the staff,” Hill remembered. “They were saying ‘We’re in this to the end, just come back’ and I came back the next day.”
Among fans and staff in Iowa City, there was worry Hill would transfer away from the Hawkeyes after the suspension. Because the exact reason for his suspension wasn’t made public until the NFL draft process, Hill heard plenty of rumors and accusations about the reason for his discipline, as well as declarations that he’d be transferring after the season.
“At one point they thought I was going to leave after the suspension, and they were worried about recruiting,” Hill said of the Iowa staff. “I told them ‘I’m here, let’s win a bowl game.”
Hill delivered on that promise, finishing his Iowa career in the 2001 Alamo Bowl victory over Texas Tech. In his time at Iowa, Kahlil collected 152 passes for 1892 yards and 15 touchdowns, good for eighth on the current all-time receiving list at Iowa. He added over 2000 career return yards, to land at number eight on the all-purpose yards list for the Hawks.
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Hill was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the 6th round of the 2002 NFL draft. He spent several seasons bouncing around the league, seeing time in the New Orleans, Detroit, Buffalo, Seattle, and Jacksonville organizations. Hill also played for several different CFL teams, including earning a championship ring, having spent part of the season with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and their 2007 Grey Cup squad. He gifted that ring to his father.
During the final few years of his career, Hill was dealing with recurring injury to his leg/hip area. Even after a full recovery, the leg would still hamper his ability on the field before becoming an issue again. In order to keep playing, Hill would use prescribed pain-killers, provided by doctors and team staff. When he finally called it quits on his playing days, the pain remained, but the pain meds weren’t as plentiful and available.
Hill declined to comment much on the overuse of painkillers in the NFL, as he’s part of a lawsuit against the NFL with regards to pain medication along with other prescriptions and procedures.
“It was masking other injuries, overcompensating,” Hill said of the relief granted by painkillers. “You don’t know what else is hurt. I’m glad they’re making a bigger deal about it now, it’s not just accepted.”
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The details are still unclear, even to Hill, but in 2015, he was arrested and convincted of burglary, spending one year behind bars in Maricopa County, Arizona, according to ABC15 in Phoenix.
Hill said he blacked out for four days, woke up in jail, and because of his refusal to make a statement against his girlfriend at the time, ended up with the one-year sentence. During that sentence, he was a part of a drug treatment program, and was released in July 2016.
“When they closed the door behind me, I realized they took time, the most important commodity,” Hill told ABC15 as he was released from jail. “Being away from my children, my family, it really hit home. If there was ever a rock bottom, that was it.”
After getting out of jail, Hill jumped headfirst into a number of ventures. He became an active member and leader at his father’s ministry, as well as becoming involved with many other causes.
One he’s most involved in is called Tough Tents, where the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office sets up a small ‘tent jail’, where at-risk youth experience 20 hours in the life of an inmate. They sleep in bunks, they eat the food the prisoners eat, and hear from those who have been in their seats. Hill is a regular speaker with the group, while also bringing in others, such as fellow former Hawkeye Anthony Herron to speak with the kids about their future.
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“When they look at me, I was just there, you should see their faces — It’s a whole different conversation,” Hill said. “I’m telling them how it really is, not what you went through last night.
“This isn’t a place you want to be. You have a chance to make a decision right now. You’re all going to think you have a better way.
“Just do the next right thing. You don’t have to do 10 things ahead. If the next right thing is to do your homework, do that. Just do the next right thing. When you look back, you’ll have a pretty good year. It adds up one step at a time”
Hill has also begun, through his church, a nonprofit organization to help provide vehicles to women who are in need, particularly single mothers. In Arizona, where public transportation infrastructure isn’t nearly as developed as some other cities, a car is a necessity, especially during the warm months.
On a professional level, Hill is a marketing and operations manager for Gourmet Meals AZ, a company in Arizona that owns several food trucks, and manages logistics for many more. He also hopes to open a sober living house for other athletes struggling with substance issues, while, in addition, trying to keep their professional goals in mind; providing trainers for the guys young enough to still play, or helping with transition skills for those who are already out of the game.
After a wild ride, through Iowa City, a suspension, the NFL, a jail sentence, and finally a bit of peace in his life, one thing remains constant for Hill, an appreciation for all that the Univeristy of Iowa has to offer.
“Iowa was the best thing that happened to me. I would just say “thank you””, Hill said, when asked what he’d like to pass on to Hawkeye fans, even those who see the worst because of his past transgressions. “That might be the only money that they had, they bought ticket sand chose to come use it spend on the kids, watch us, cheer us on. My gratitude; I can’t put it into words.“