Monday was a good day for Georgia Tech A-back Deon Hill, his first day back on the practice field. Just being back with his teammates as they prepared for Saturday’s game against Miami gave him a charge.
“I missed everybody, being out there with everybody,” said Hill, a cheerful sort rarely without a smile.
It was a significant step in his return to playing after being diagnosed about four weeks ago with Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract. Hill missed the past three games as doctors waited for the inflammation to subside before clearing him to practice. It is not the standard ankle sprain or shoulder injury that forced Hill off the field, but he has handled it with grace.
“He’s tried to calm me more than I’m calming him,” said Diane Hill, Deon’s mother.
Crohn’s disease may affect as many as 700,000 Americans, according to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America website, prevalent most between people between 15 and 35. Its symptoms include abdominal pain and cramping, diarrhea and ulcers. Causes are not well understood, but it may be influenced by hereditary and environmental factors. There is no known cure, but it can be treated with medication.
It can recur and require surgery, but it is also possible for therapy to lead to long-term remission. With the aid of anti-inflammatory medication, Hill said symptoms have cleared and that doctors have been encouraged by his return to health.
“I feel a whole lot better, getting better sleep at night and everything,” Hill said.
Hill said he started to have severe stomach cramps at the start of preseason camp, pain that he withstood to win a starting job. He hoped it would go away, but when it worsened, he was hospitalized the week after he made his first career start in the season opener against Elon. The diagnosis was made during a four-day hospitalization.
Once the inflammation subsides, an athlete like Hill is at no greater risk, Tech team doctor Angelo Galante said. He could remember only one other Tech athlete diagnosed with Crohn’s in recent years, but former Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback David Garrard and former New England Patriots offensive lineman Matt Light are among those who have played with it.
Giving up football was never an option for Hill. Mom was OK with it, too.
“I would never take that from him,” Diane Hill said. “If that’s what he wanted to do, I’m going with him.”
Hill was held out of practice as he waited for his clearance and worked out with the strength and conditioning staff. On his first day back, Hill said he wanted to get back in the groove and re-gain the trust of coaches and teammates.
Hill practiced with the first-string offense, evidence that the starting spot remains his to lose and that he didn’t actually lose anyone’s trust. Hill won the job in the preseason with a consistent command of the running, pass catching and blocking that his position requires.
“I’m just going to keep working hard,” he said. “It’s not going to stop now. Just get back in the groove, try to make plays for the team.”
Barring setback, Hill will be in Miami this Saturday, supported by a prayerful mother, medication and an unflappable attitude.
“I just took it all in stride,” Hill said. “I guess it’s a blessing in disguise. I know God’s got something for me, so it’s all good.”