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Hill's legacy still running strong

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- Darryl Hill is the first African American athlete to play football for a major university and take the field in the Deep South.  

Now Maryland's Athletic Director, Kevin Anderson and Hill will witness history this weekend as they watch the Terps take on the Clemson Tigers - likely for the last time.  The final match up marks a historic event 50-years ago when Hill broke new ground on the field in College Park.

Derek McGinty has more in tonight's cover story.

Some men are destined to make history whether they volunteer for the job or not. Darryl Hill is one such man. A half century ago he became the first black football player at the University of Maryland, the first in the whole ACC. But as you will see, while Hill was certainly a pioneer, he did not walk alone. 

"And I just right off the bat said 'I'm not trying to be Jackie Robinson. I'd like to go to college. Have a normal college life." 

He laughs about it now but after graduating from Gonzaga High as a star wide receiver in 1961 Darryl Hill's college life would never be normal. First, Hill's mom talked him into the Naval academy, where he was the first black player ever. 

"There were kids on the team from the south who weren't all that happy about my being on the team."

But did I mention he was the quarterback on that team?  

"I said 'hey, boy, you can really throw. What's your name?' He said 'my name is Roger.' I said 'Roger - what's your last name?' He said 'Staubach'. (laughs). I said 'well man, you're pretty good'."

The two hit it off.

"And so he said 'Look Darryl. You catch; I throw. We got this.' Pretty much, the heat was off because Roger and I were leading the team."

But only for one season. Turns the Navy was more momma's dream then Daryl's, so he looked to transfer and that's when her heard from Lee Corso who was then a coach at University of Maryland.

"I said 'Coach, you've forgotten which conference you play in, right?' He said 'that's just the point. we'd like you to come and become the first African American to play in the Atlantic coast conference.'"

But Darryl wasn't sure he really wanted to be a pioneer again. 

"I just want to have some fun and go to some frat parties and drink some beer. ."

But Corso challenged him. You can have fun or you can make history. 

"But most important reason is that if you don't come, there may be some years before we step up to take this step again. You were carefully gleaned out to do this. We gotta have the right guy just like Jackie Robison was the right guy."

So instead of frat parties and beer, Daryl was treated to assasination threats at the first away game, North Carolina state.

"I thought this was a prank and trying to frighten me.  The opening kickoff I'm glancing up there and I dropped it."

At Wake Forest, it was even worse.

"They had organized cheers using the n word and so forth. Get the dirty so and so off the field."  

But then a courageous act from a man who would later be famous for his courage.

"Wake Forest had a player who was the biggest hero ever. He came up to me during the warm-ups and apologized. He apologized for the way my fans are put his hand on my shoulder. All the crap stopped.  He said you go out there and do your thing. It was Brian Piccolo. From the movie brian's song.  What you saw about Piccolo and Gail Sayers was real because he did it with me."   

Which brings us to the Clemson game. Back then the South Carolina school had only just admitted its first black students. The football coach Frank Howard, an avowed racist was drawing the line.

"He said they may make us integrate our school, but i'll never integrate our football athletic programs. And the name of the stadium death valley, he said a black man will never set a foot on this field."

But on November 16, 1963, one did. 

"It was a circus. There were people walking around with confederate flags. People with kuklux klan hats on, organized cheers, negative cheers."

Add to all that, while warming up, Hill got word his mother was outside with a ticket but they wouldn't let her in. The stadium was for whites only. That was too much. And Hill was about leave but when he got outside to his mom;

"The president of Clemson University Robert Edwards was standing with my mother and don't know how he knew.  He said Darryl don't worry. I'm taking you mom to my suite. You go play the game."

Hill caught 10 passes that day despite being double and triple teamed. And he credits his teammates who stood by him that entire historic season, even when he didn't know it.

"I learned after I left Maryland they had a team meeting about accommodating at restaurants, and the team voted unanimously that if they wont take him, we wont stay."

Breaking barriers back then means a lot to him now."It means a lot more now, looking back on it because you think maybe you've done some good. It would have gotten there whether I did it or not, I think the only thing I can take pride in is that it happened a little sooner than it would have happened."

Today, at age 70, Hill has been a successful businessman and restauranteur. Today he is the Chairman of "Kids Play USA Foundation" whose mission is to remove the financial barriers from youth sports. He is also still a huge Terps fan.


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