Memories of Hill Are Not Forgotten By the Patriots
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.”
The Patriots are wearing a sticker bearing Marquise Hill’s No. 91 on their helmets.
Defensive end Marquise Hill, who played three seasons for the Patriots, died in a jet-skiing accident last spring on Lake Pontchartrain.