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Wayne Cavadi | | December 17, 2022

Harlon Hill Trophy: An essential guide to the DII football award

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Every December, the DII national player of the year is awarded the Harlon Hill Trophy. Considered the Heisman Trophy of DII football, the award has an illustrious history dating back to 1986.

John Matocha of Colorado School of Mines became the 20th quarterback to receive the award, being named the 2022 Harlon Hill Trophy winner on Dec. 16, 2022. Matocha helped the Orediggers reach the national championship game by passing for more than 4,500 yards and 52 touchdowns on the season. 

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Here's everything you need to know about the prestigious DII football honor.

Meet Harlon Hill, the North Alabama and NFL football star

Hill played for Florence State Teachers College — now North Alabama — from 1950-53. He played both offense and defense but it was his play as a sure-handed receiver that got him noticed. After earning All-American honors in 1953, Hill was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the 15th round of the 1954 NFL draft. 

He exploded onto the scene, leading the NFL with 12 touchdown receptions in a 1954 Rookie of the Year campaign. One year later he was named the NFL MVP. Hill had 32 touchdowns after his first three seasons and when his nine-year NFL career ended, he was a three-time Pro-Bowler and two-time All-Pro.

The Harlon Hill Award committee named the trophy after Hill in 1986. Hill passed away in March of 2013 in Florence, Alabama. 

What the Harlon Hill Trophy looks like

The trophy is a four-tiered wooden award. The base has a gold plaque commemorating the nation's best DII college football player and is surrounded by the names of past winners. The second tier has the name Harlon Hill Trophy and a DII plaque holding above it a base with a photo of Harlon Hill in his No. 87 jersey. A gold football rests atop the award.

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The Harlon Hill Award committee presented the award in conjunction with Hill's alma mater, North Alabama from 1986 to 2017. When the Lions jumped to FCS play, the Little Rock Touchdown Club and Great American Conference became the new hosts of the award. 

Great American Conference The Harlon Hill Trophy

The Harlon Hill Trophy: History of winners

Before North Dakota State went onto dominate the FCS, the Bison were a DII football powerhouse. Jeff Bentrim led them to a second-straight championship in 1986 and in doing so, became the first recipient of the award.

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Since then, the Harlon Hill Award has been offense heavy. Nineteen award winners have been quarterbacks and 14 have been running backs. Ronnie West of Pittsburg State is the lone wide receiver to win the trophy, while Ronald McKinnon of North Alabama remains the only defensive player ever to be named a Harlon Hill winner.

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There have been four student-athletes who have won the award multiple times. None have done it more than Johnny Bailey, who won it in three consecutive seasons from 1987-1989 as running back for Texas A&M-Kingsville. Valdosta State's Dusty Bonner, Chadron State's Danny Woodhead and Ferris State's Jason Vander Laan are the two-time winners of the award. 

YEAR player school position
1986 Jeff Bentrim North Dakota State Quarterback
1987 Johnny Bailey Texas A&M-Kingsville Running back
1988 Johnny Bailey Texas A&M-Kingsville     Running back
1989 Johnny Bailey Texas A&M-Kingsville     Running back
1990 Chris Simdorn North Dakota State Quarterback
1991 Ronnie West Pittsburg State Wide receiver
1992 Ronald Moore Pittsburg State     Running back
1993 Roger Graham New Haven Running back
1994 Chris Hatcher Valdosta State Quarterback
1995 Ronald McKinnon North Alabama Linebacker
1996 Jarrett Anderson Truman Running back
1997 Irvin Sigler Bloomsburg Running back
1998 Brian Shay Emporia State Running back
1999 Corte McGuffey Northern Colorado Quarterback
2000 Dusty Bonner Valdosta State Quarterback
2001 Dusty Bonner Valdosta State Quarterback
2002 Curt Anes Grand Valley State Quarterback
2003 Will Hall North Alabama Quarterback
2004 Chad Friehauf Colorado Mines Quarterback
2005 Jimmy Terwilliger East Stroudsburg Quarterback
2006 Danny Woodhead Chadron State Running back
2007 Danny Woodhead Chadron State Running back
2008 Bernard Scott Abilene Christian Running back
2009 Joique Bell Wayne State (MI) Running back 
2010 Eric Czerniewski Central Missouri Quarterback
2011 Jonas Randolph Mars Hill Running back
2012 Zach Zulli Shippensburg Quarterback
2013 Franklyn Quiteh Bloomsburg Running back
2014 Jason Vander Laan Ferris State Quarterback
2015 Jason Vander Laan Ferris State Quarterback
2016 Justin Dvorak Colorado Mines Quarterback
2017 Luis Perez Texas A&M–Commerce Quarterback
2018 Jayru Campbell Ferris State Quarterback
2019 Roland Rivers III Slippery Rock Quarterback
2020 No trophy given (Covid-19)    
2021 Tyson Bagent Shepherd Quarterback
2022 John Matocha Colorado School of Mines Quarterback

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