SI Vault
Peter Carry
August 09, 1971
The All-Stars lost, as usual, but some of the brassy kids who made it close are going to brighten up the pros
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August 09, 1971

Gooood Kids On The Way

The All-Stars lost, as usual, but some of the brassy kids who made it close are going to brighten up the pros

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Standing amid the swirl of change at the Orrington, wearing a black plastic facsimile of a World War II Wehrmacht helmet with the close-cropped curls of his `beard partly obscured under the low-slung earflaps, was the magnificent wide receiver and kick returner, J. D. Hill, epitomizing the team's flamboyant mood. Hill is a hat freak whose collection for the All-Star camp included not only his helmet but an array of Stetsons, floppy velvet Big Apples, a striped train engineer's cap and a gray knitted hat in the style of Sly of Sly and the Family Stone. The last was saved for game night to top off a gray and green knit jump suit and cape outfit Hill wore simply for the psychological uplift of fine threads.

"My philosophy is, when I go to a game if I got something really outtasight on, it makes me feel gooood," he said, relaxing beside his bright blue, customized and wired-for-sound Continental Mark III, easily the plushiest set of wheels among a colorful collection of Mark IIIs, Eldorados and T-Birds parked in front of the Orrington. "It makes for playing gooood. If you've got on sloppy clothes that don't fit real gooood, you play sloppy. But if you get some fine, snug-fitting things that look gooood, man, then you feel gooood and play gooood."

Jim Wiggins, Hill's tailor in Scottsdale, Ariz., must have cut his clothes perfectly, because that was just about the way Hill had played in his most recent games. He was the Most Valuable Player in the Senior Bowl and runner-up for the same award in the Coaches All-America Game. In a warmup scrimmage against the Bears, Hill caught four of the seven passes completed by the All-Stars.

Against the Colts, however, Hill's performance was as uneven as his team's. He bolted offside on a crucial third-down situation in the second half when the Stars might have tied Baltimore. Like three of his teammates, he caught two passes, one of them a leaping grab after cutting across the middle where he prefers to run his patterns, but his best play of the game came on a pass he did not catch. "One of the things that makes it great to throw to J. D. is the way he comes back to you so hard on curlins," Plunkett said. "He gives the quarterback a great target." On the key play of the Stars' lone touchdown drive Hill sprinted to the goal-line flag and curled in front of Jim Duncan, who had no choice but to interfere to prevent the touchdown. The play gave the Stars a first down on the Baltimore one, and Brockington swept right for the score on the next play.

Hill's hard curls and high style are part of his attempt to catch up in a life that began as a poor kid in Stockton, Calif. and was set back further when he sat out a year at Arizona State for stealing shoes from a salesman's car. Even his names, first and last, are a source of confusion. "My initials don't mean anything," he explained. "When I was born, it was just something going around among black people. There were L. D.s and G. K.s and I'm just J. D. It's on my birth certificate. And my real name is J. D. Clark. I was the seventh of 18 kids and my mother had TB and my father never had much of a job. I lived most of the time with my grandparents, and after a while I took their name, Hill.

"There were so many people who said I'd never make anything out of myself. They'd never have thought I'd be a captain of the College All-Stars. I never see the other kids in my family; I don't even know if any of them play football. That's one thing I'd like to do is get them all together so I can show 'em what I've done, so I can be proud and they can be proud of me. Some people in my family probably read about J. D. Hill and don't know he's me."

Some of the pros now know, and more will be finding out soon who he and a bunch of other strange names are. They are really gooood.

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