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 had been diagnosed in August with renal medullary carcinoma, a rare and aggressive form of kidney cancer that predominantly affects African Americans with the sickle cell trait. He had been transferred to hospice care earlier this week.
“Ronnie quietly and peacefully transitioned today in the company of his family and close friends,” the family wrote. “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.”
A native of Compton, California, Hillman went on to star at San Diego State, where he amassed more than 3,500 yards from scrimmage and 38 touchdowns in his first two seasons on the team. He declared for the NFL draft after his sophomore season, and the Broncos selected him with their third-round pick in 2012.
In a statement released Wednesday, San Diego State athletics director John David Wicker credited Hillman with helping “resurrect” the program in his two seasons with the team. Head coach Brady Hoke called him “an Aztec for Life.”
Follow every game: Latest NFL Scores and Schedules
“Although I only got to coach him one season, I’ll remember him as a great teammate and hard worker,” Hoke said. “Ronnie always came to practice with a smile on this face and his passion for the game was contagious.”
A diminutive and quick rusher, Hillman went on to play parts of five seasons in the NFL, including four with the Broncos. He was part of the Peyton Manning-led team 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 grew into a dynamic player and well-respected teammate,” the Broncos said in a statement. “Ronnie will be fondly remembered by our organization, which extends its heartfelt sympathies and condolences to the Hillman family during this difficult time.”
Hillman went on to have brief stints with the Minnesota Vikings and then-San Diego Chargers in 2016. He retired after spending part of the 2017 preseason with the Dallas Cowboys.