Former San Diego State and NFL running back Ronnie Hillman died Wednesday, according to a statement from his family. Hillman, 31, was reported this week to be in hospice while battling a rare form of liver cancer and pneumonia.
“It is with heavy hearts that we announce the passing of our beloved son, brother & father, Ronnie K Hillman Jr.,” read the family statement posted Wednesday night on social media. “Ronnie quietly and peacefully transitioned today in the company of his family and close friends.
“We as the family, appreciate the prayers and kind words that have already been expressed. We ask that you would give us time to process our feelings as we prepare to lay our precious RJ to rest.
“More information will be forthcoming. With love, The Family”
In an earlier post this week, Hillman’s family said he was diagnosed in August with renal medullary carcinoma, “a rare but highly aggressive neoplasm form of cancer that primarily affects young African Americans with sickle cell trait.” Treatment was not successful and he was in hospice care.
News of Hillman’s illness came Tuesday from former Denver Broncos teammates Derek Wolfe and Orlando Franklin on Denver’s 104.3 The Fan, with Wolfe making it public in an effort “to send positive vibes his way.”
Late Wednesday night, SDSU released statements from Aztecs head coach Brady Hoke and AD John David Wicker.
“We are saddened to hear about the passing of Ronnie Hillman,” Wicker said. “Ronnie helped resurrect San Diego State football in his two seasons in 2010 and 2011 and has recently been around the program offering wisdom and insight. Our thoughts and prayers are with Ronnie’s family in this impossibly difficult time.”
“Our deepest condolences go out to Ronnie’s family,” Hoke said. “Although I only got to coach him one season (2010), I’ll remember him as a great teammate and hard worker. Ronnie always came to practice with a smile on this face and his passion for the game was contagious. He’ll always be an Aztec for Life.”
Hillman, a Long Beach native, started an unprecedented nine-year run in which SDSU had 11 players reach the 1,000-yard rushing milestone.
Hillman ran for 1,532 yards and 17 touchdowns as a freshman in 2010 and 1,711 yards and 19 TDs as a sophomore in 2011 before declaring for the 2012 NFL Draft.
Hillman’s rushing efforts both rank among SDSU’s top 10 single-season efforts. His 3,243 total yards rank fifth on SDSU’s all-time rushing list, behind only Pumphrey (6,405), Marshall Faulk (4,589), Rashaad Penny (3,656) and Larry Ned (3,792).
Hillman’s breakout performance came in a 2010 game at Missouri when he rushed for 235 yards, with touchdown runs of 75 and 93 yards. He capped the season by leading SDSU to a 35-14 win over Navy in the 2010 Poinsettia Bowl, rushing for 228 yards and three touchdowns.
In 2011, Hillman helped SDSU to its first 3-0 start in three decades with a 191-yard, four-touchdown performance in a win over Washington State. He rushed for at least 100 yards in eight games that year. Hillman collected almost that many yards on one carrying, scoring on a 99-yard run in a game against Wyoming.
The Denver Broncos drafted Hillman in the third round of the ’12 draft, and he played most of his six-year career with the Broncos.
Hillman’s best season was 2015, when he rushed for 863 yards and seven touchdowns and was part of the Broncos team that defeated Carolina 24-10 in Super Bowl 50.
He also played for the Vikings (2016), Chargers (2016) and Cowboys (2017), rushing for 1,976 career yards with 12 TDs. Hillman also was a reliable pass catcher out of the backfield, with 74 career receptions for 524 yards.
On Wednesday night, Pumphrey tweeted: “Rest in Peace Ronnie! My prayers go out to his family! Continue to watch over us King!”
The SDSU football program has been shaken for the second time in three months by the death of a young former player. Tight end Gavin Escobar, 33, a teammate of Hillman’s in 2010-11 who also played in the NFL, died in late September in a rock climbing accident.