Mem­o­ries of Hill Are Not Forgotten By the Pa­tri­ots

The Washington Post - - Sports - By Mark Maske

SCOTTS­DALE, Ariz., Jan. 30 — Ran­dall Gay left his home in Louisiana for an ear­ly­morn­ing work­out on Me­mo­rial Day. He no­ticed on his cell­phone he had missed a mid­night call from New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots team­mate Jarvis Green. It was odd, he thought, for Green to have called him at that hour.

“He knows I don’t stay up that late,” Gay said. “I go to sleep early.”

But then Gay’s phone rang twice more. It was Green. “I was like, ‘ Some­thing’s got to be go­ing on,’ ” Gay said.

What Green told him was so shock­ing that Gay didn’t be­lieve it at first: Pa­tri­ots de­fen­sive end Mar­quise Hill had been in­volved in a jet-ski­ing ac­ci­dent on Lake Pontchar­train in New Or­leans and was miss­ing.

Green as­sured Gay he wasn’t kid­ding,

and Gay went back into his house and told his wife. They called Hill’s fi­ancee, Inell Benn, who said she was on her way to the lake. Gay said he would join her there, and he made the 45-minute drive to New Or­leans.

He was there on the shore later that day when au­thor­i­ties found Hill’s body and pulled it from the lake, the day af­ter Hill went miss­ing. Life since hasn’t been quite the same for any of the Pa­tri­ots.

The loss has been par­tic­u­larly dev­as­tat­ing for Green and Gay, both of whom played with Hill at Louisiana State. Both said they’ve thought of Hill ev­ery day since his death, and both said they will think of him again Sun­day when they face the New York Gi­ants in the Su­per Bowl.

“He’s there,” Green, who has worn Hill’s shoul­der pads all sea­son, qui­etly said Wed­nes­day at the Scotts­dale re­sort at which the Pa­tri­ots are stay­ing this week. Team­mates also have been honor­ing Hill this sea­son by wear­ing a round black sticker with his No. 91 in white let­ter­ing on their hel­mets.

“I have a piece of what he’d been wear­ing since he was in col­lege. I know he’s look­ing down. That means a lot to me.”

Hill spent three sea­sons with the Pa­tri­ots af­ter be­ing se­lected in the sec­ond round of the 2004 NFL draft. He hadn’t ful­filled his draft­day prom­ise, but was well liked within the locker room and was par­tic­u­larly close to Green.

Green, also a de­fen­sive end, was a ju­nior at LSU when he was told by the school’s coach, Nick Sa­ban, that the pro­gram was re­cruit­ing a young player from New Or­leans named Mar­quise Hill who had fol­lowed Green’s ca­reer since high school and idolized him. Hill came for his of­fi­cial re­cruit­ing visit and went to a bas­ket­ball game with Green and Sa­ban. Green and Hill in­stantly be­came friends.

“When I first met him, it seemed like I’d known him for­ever,” said Green, who was Hill’s boss on a sum­mer con­struc­tion job.

Green mostly was a loner in col­lege, but when the more emo­tional Hill was dis­traught about a lack of play­ing time, it was Green who kept up the younger player’s spir­its. Green was drafted by the Pa­tri­ots in the fourth round in 2002, and two years later, Pa­tri­ots Coach Bill Belichick asked Green about Hill. Green gave his friend a pos­i­tive rec­om­men­da­tion.

Hill would tell Green about the house he was build­ing in New Or­leans for his mother and grand­mother around the time Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina struck. He would tell Green about his dreams of hav­ing a son and be­ing the sort of de­voted fa­ther he’d never had him­self.

“He was a great guy, a gen­tle­man, very hum­ble,” Green said. “A lot of peo­ple don’t know about the type of per­son he was off the field. He went back to New Or­leans, and I re­mem­ber when he had just bought his home around the time the storm hap­pened, and I just re­mem­ber talk­ing to him about it.

“He had about 30 or 40 peo­ple liv­ing in his house. He was pretty much tak­ing care of them. The house was pretty much a mess, too, from the storm. I guess it got out some­how, but he was not the type of guy to try to look for at­ten­tion. The things he did for the com­mu­nity, he did from his heart.”

Green was watch­ing television in his house when his phone rang around 7:30 p.m. on the day Hill dis­ap­peared. A rel­a­tive re­layed the news the Coast Guard was look­ing for Hill on Lake Pontchar­train, wa­ters on which Green had gone jet­ski­ing when he was in col­lege.

“I hung up on him,” Green said. “I didn’t be­lieve it. And then he called me back and said: ‘ Re­ally, I’m se­ri­ous. My brother-in-law saw stuff go­ing on, and that’s what the ru­mor is. They’re look­ing for the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots foot­ball player, Mar­quise Hill.’ Af­ter that, I made two phone calls and just waited.

“It was 17 hours un­til the next day when they found his body. I told my wife to con­tact his fi­ancee. My wife called her, and she didn’t know any­thing at the time. I said, ‘It’s just a ru­mor.’ My wife was like, ‘Those things don’t just hap­pen.’ Then I called my agent. We have the same agent. And I just waited and waited. It was tough.”

It was no eas­ier for Gay at the shore­line, try­ing to com­fort Benn and main­tain hope Hill would be found alive.

“I didn’t want to be there,” said Gay, a cor­ner­back who had been Hill’s room­mate on the road with the Pa­tri­ots. “But at the same time, I wanted to be there for his fam­ily. I had to be there. . . . It was real tough. We were there maybe a cou­ple hours. You kind of know it, but you don’t al­ways want to be­lieve what you know. You’re al­ways hop­ing for that mir­a­cle, like he washed up some­where and was knocked out, un­con­scious. Your mind comes up with things like that. In your heart, you know the truth. But we tried to keep hop­ing.”

Hill, as it turned out, had helped a fe­male friend who was jet-ski­ing with him to safety but had been un­able to es­cape the wa­ters him­self and drowned, end­ing his life at age 24 and leav­ing be­hind his young son with Benn, Ma’Shy, who is 2.

When those at the lake got the news, Gay called his agent, Al­bert Elias, who also rep­re­sented Hill and Green. Elias told Green. The word spread quickly to other Pa­tri­ots play­ers. Each found his own way to deal with the loss.

Gay thought back to when his mother had died dur­ing his fresh­man sea­son at LSU. He wanted to quit foot­ball then, but those around him had helped him to re­al­ize life had to go on. That les­son still ap­plied.

Af­ter Hill’s funeral, Hill’s fi­ancee and son spent about two weeks with Green and his fam­ily at their home. Ma’Shy would play in the yard with Green’s three chil­dren, hap­pily tear­ing apart Green’s be­long­ings as if noth­ing had hap­pened.

Th­ese days, both Green and Gay hear through their wives about how Benn and Ma’Shy are do­ing. They say they haven’t forgotten Hill, and their other Pa­tri­ots team­mates haven’t ei­ther.

“Guys are closer,” Green said. “You can’t take things for granted. Ev­ery­body goes through tragedies and loses loved ones and fam­ily mem­bers, but ev­ery­thing com­pletely changes. You know that life is very im­por­tant and very pre­cious, and you have to live it the right way. That could have been any­body. That could have been any­body else on the team, or their fam­ily mem­bers of their best friends or what­ever.”

Hill still has a locker in the Pa­tri­ots’ locker room in Foxborough, Mass. Gay keeps a set of pic­tures in what he calls the “LSU sec­tion” of his locker. Hill’s pic­ture is prom­i­nent. Gay sees Hill’s pic­ture ev­ery day he goes to work.

“He was a real good per­son, a great team­mate, some­body who worked his butt off to try to make him­self a bet­ter player ev­ery day,” Gay said. “He was the first one in ev­ery morn­ing, no mat­ter what. He was al­ways that guy that would be there when you got there, no mat­ter when. He was work­ing hard to try to prove that he was an NFL-type player.”

BY ELSA — GETTY IMAGES

The Pa­tri­ots are wear­ing a sticker bear­ing Mar­quise Hill’s No. 91 on their hel­mets.

BY LISA POOLE — AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

De­fen­sive end Mar­quise Hill, who played three sea­sons for the Pa­tri­ots, died in a jet-ski­ing ac­ci­dent last spring on Lake Pontchar­train.

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