The media sure had fun with the Miami Hurricanes during their glory years in the 1980s and early ’90s. Most notably, it dubbed the 1988 game against Notre Dame “Catholics vs. Convicts” and Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated joked that the Hurricanes took their team picture from the front and side and that Miami was atop the polls of the AP, UPI, SI and FBI.
“The U” was known as much for winning national titles (four in less than a decade) as it was for having no respect for rules, laws or authority of any kind. So you might be surprised when you find out that one of the most flamboyant Hurricanes of that bygone era, wide receiver Randal Hill, is now a federal agent for the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Said Hill of the screening process involved before he became an agent in 2003: “The biggest part of it is background, making sure you are a person who is upstanding, staying out of trouble – contrary to what you used to see me do on the field.”
Yes, the job isn’t exactly what you’d expect from the hot dog they called “Thrill Hill,” a pint-sized 5-10, 180-pound wide receiver with a huge chip on his shoulder to go along with blazing 4.3 40 speed.
Just how ridiculous were Hill’s antics?
He once told an interviewer that he was so fast he needed to start attaching a parachute on his back like a drag car to slow him down after he reached the end zone.
In a 1990 game at Cal, Hill threw his arms into the air after each of his six first-half catches and did a touchdown dance that can’t be described in words – good thing it’s on YouTube. Miami’s athletic director and then-coach Dennis Erickson both reprimanded him after the game.
But Hill saved the best for his last collegiate game, the 1991 Cotton Bowl – seen as the best or worst of Miami football, depending on whom you ask.
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On a day in which the Hurricanes set a bowl record for penalties (16 for 202 yards, nine of which were for unsportsmanlike conduct), Hill was the star of the show. He scored on a 48-yard touchdown pass and ran all the way up the tunnel of the Cotton Bowl, only to return firing imaginary six-shooters at the Texas Longhorn players.
Unsurprisingly, the NCAA instituted a new rule that offseason assessing a 15-yard penalty for excessive celebrations, also known as the “Miami Rule.”
While Hill was trouble on the field, he was the son of a high school principal and an elementary school teacher that kept his head on straight off it.
So during a seven-year career in the NFL, Hill started looking for his next occupation by getting involved in public speaking engagements, speaking before several state and federal law enforcement agencies.
Hill was so enticed that he went on to become a police officer at the Sunrise (Fla.) Police Department and then a deputy sheriff with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office before joining the Department of Homeland Security in September of 2003.
Although the two professions appear completely unrelated, Hill sees a lot of similarities between the two.
Said Hill: “It’s very competitive, which is like the NFL. You have to be a hyperactive nut, like the NFL. You have to be a go-getter, like the NFL. And you can’t settle for being second best, like the NFL. The only difference with being a federal agent is that if you settle for being second best, then people’s lives are in jeopardy, and you don’t want that to happen.”
As a special agent, Hill’s job includes everything from financial investigations to issues of national security to busting drug lords and counterfeiters.
“One of the myths of homeland security is that the only thing we do is protect the border,” Hill said. “For example, I’m part of a financial group and I also help protect the financial infrastructure of the United States.”
Hill was even part of a team that cracked down on counterfeiting at last February’s Super Bowl in Miami, a game that’s become a mecca of fake tickets and merchandise.
If it sounds glamorous, don’t be fooled. Hill takes special precautions as a federal agent and former high-profile athlete. He keeps a gun by his bed at night and likens it to the American Express card: “Don’t leave home without it.”
“The internet is a very powerful thing,” Hill said. “For example, I still get cards where fans have actually researched and looked up my address and sent cards for me to sign and send back. That’s kind of scary. So you never know who’s watching you, who’s trying to locate you.”
On the plus side, Hill has found his crazy antics that made him such a memorable player at “The U” have helped make his new profession a little easier when working in the community.
“If I’m out in public and people bring (the 1991 Cotton Bowl) up and I tell them what I do now, they’re a little more willing to help me and help the Department of Homeland Security,” Hill said.
As for the criminals that make his job so demanding, they would be ill advised to try and run from the former NFL’s Fastest Man runner-up even though he’s now 41. Just how fast can Hill still fly in the 40-yard dash these days?
Said Hill: “I haven’t been timed recently but since I work for the government, I have to say that if I did have a time, that’s classified.”