J.D. Hill: Catch the Vision
By Audra Smith
The 700 Club
Original Air Date: November 19, 2010
Among all of the memorable playmakers in the NFL, J.D. Hill was a football legend. He was a force to be reckoned with on the field, but few truly knew the driving force behind the man.
“As long as I was on the ball field, running and catching and jumping, that was my world," J.D. Hill tells The 700 Club. "I could forget about being an adopted kid. I could forget about my parents being drug addicts and alcoholics. Athletics became a very important part of my life. I could hide in there.”
When J.D. was only three days old, his drug addicted parents left him with his grandparents.
“It created a lot of emotional pain, because I always questioned, ‘Why didn’t my parents want me?’”
But even in the absence of his birth parents, J.D.’s grandparents tried to give him the foundation he needed to succeed.
“My grandparents loved the Lord. Because I was raised in the church, I knew about the Lord. I loved God, but not like I loved sports.”
In high school, J.D. was one of the fastest track runners in the country and an all American baseball and football player. He earned an athletic scholarship to Arizona State where he lettered in all three sports and set NCAA records that stand to this day.
“I was the athlete. That was my identity.”
In 1971, J.D. was a first round draft pick by the Buffalo Bills.
“I can remember in pre-season, my first year with the Buffalo Bills, I caught a 67-yard touchdown, first pass to me. The next one was a 69-yard touchdown, and I was like, ‘I am on my way. I am going to be this all pro rookie of the year.’”
However, J.D.’s victory celebration was short lived. After the game, he received a stunning blow.
“Head coach and one of the vice presidents said, ‘We have some bad news. Your mother has passed away.’ All I want to be able to say was, ‘Hey, mom, I’m your kid. I’m your kid.’ But, I never got a chance.”
After the funeral, J.D. immediately flew home for a pre-season game against the Detroit Lions.
“I remember I didn’t want to play. I hadn’t practiced all week. I was tired. Emotionally, I wasn’t there. I remember catching a pass and going across the middle and I caught a slant. Dick Labo hit me in my left knee, and I felt something. I thought, ‘Man, that doesn’t feel right.’ I didn’t get a chance to tell the trainer or anybody that something was wrong with my knee. I go out and sure enough the ball was kicked to me."
On the next tackle, his knee was hit again and he was carried off of the field on a stretcher. But, he fought hard to come back from arthroscopic knee surgery, and was able to return to the Bills by the last game of the season.
He went on to play five seasons with the Bills and even competed in the NFL pro-bowl as a wide receiver. In 1979, he was traded to the Detroit Lions, but he wouldn’t be in Detroit for long.
“I get to Detroit and the first game of the season, I get hit in the knee, tore up the knee. I play one game. I catch one pass in two years and I never recovered from that. So, I was let go by the Detroit Lions. And that devastated me. I went to drugs. I went to alcohol. I walked the streets. I ended up in bars. I ended up in drug houses. So that became my life."
J.D. became addicted to crack cocaine and spent years going in and out of rehab facilities.
Eventually, he left his three sons and his wife of 20 years.
“I lost everything except my life at one point.”
J.D. fed his addiction for almost 10 years until, at a crack house, he realized he had reached his breaking point.
“I was so bad on drugs that I knew I was dying. I said to the Lord, ‘Lord, if You don’t get me out, I’m not going to make it.”
At the same time, his wife and his best friends were already making arrangements to find J.D. and get him help.
“Larry Churcheck called my wife, praying with her and encouraging her. He said, ‘Listen, do you think we could get him to the Dream Center?’ The same day that Larry was talking to my wife, another friend of mine, my best friend named Alvin Battle, got two other friends and came into the drug community looking for me.
“Alvin came in the yard, went through the drug dealers, through the drug addicts, came in the house and called me out by name. It was as though Jesus was calling, ‘Lazarus.’ He said, ‘J.D.!’ I knew his voice. God called him to come in that drug house and get me out. I haven’t been back since.”
J.D. entered the L.A. Dream Center and successfully finished a one-year program. Almost a decade later, J.D. is still clean and his life has been fully restored.
“While there, God gave me back my first love, which is Him. It drew me back to Him. God restored me back to my family. He gave me back my wife and children. He placed me in a loving community, and it is because of my love for my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and the call He has on my life.”
Today, JD. is a counselor at the Dream Center where he often shares his own story. He has started his own ministry, Catch the Vision, which reaches out to thousands of young athletes around the globe.
“When I left the NFL, I thought it was over. This ball has given me a platform to give me an opportunity to do even greater things than I ever thought I would do. I made a lot of great receptions. As a receiver I caught a lot of great passes. The greatest reception I ever made was when I caught the vision to allow Jesus Christ to come into my life, and be Lord and Savior. Greatest reception I ever made.”
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