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.
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.
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.
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.
|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|
|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)|
|2022||John Matocha||Colorado School of Mines||Quarterback|