The first time Darryl Hill heard the Maryland cannon fire following a Terrapins score, he dived onto the ground. He thought somebody was shooting at him. His teammates rolled on the ground in laughter. That wouldn’t happen in College Park. Hill was safe and at home. 

A self-described reluctant pioneer at first, Hill broke the ACC’s football color barrier 50 years ago in a game against North Carolina State. During a celebration honoring Hill on Tuesday at Gossett Team House overlooking Byrd Stadium, Hill held up a worn program and game ticket. 

“eBay is a wonderful thing,” Hill said. “You can find anything there.”

At Maryland, he found a support system. When hotels refused to serve African Americans, his Terps teammates voted to stay elsewhere. When he witnessed firsthand the injustices in southern cultures, he became even more motivated, a trailblazer unlike any other as colleague Jason Reid wrote in today’s Post. Something about that cannon still spooks him, though. Every time it goes off, it still makes him jump, even at a recent Maryland game, when he teapt into the arms of one Ray Lewis. 

“I’m just very proud that he is part of our family, and we’re able to recognize him on such a historic occasion,” Coach Randy Edsall said Tuesday. “I know the football program and the university will be forever grateful to Darryl for being that trailblazer, that pioneer, and for presenting opportunities for those who came after him to share the same experiences he did.” 

When his mother was denied stadium entry at Clemson, he set an ACC receiving record that stood for 30 years. When his family got booed at Wake Forest, Hill had three touchdowns and 250 all-purpose yards. 

“When I saw those things that got your juices going, I was a reluctant pioneer when I got going, but when I saw the horrors that were going on in the South, I got more motivated because I thought we needed to shake things up,” Hill said.

Now he’s opening doors for college athletes. Hill has helped found Kids Play USA, an organization dedicated to removing economic barriers that prevent underprivileged children from playing sports. 

“I think sports is the single most important factor to social togetherness that this nation has ever known,” Hill said. “When I came along in the 50s, there was a misconception about African Americans. All of a sudden, when Bill Russell and Jackie Robinson were talking intelligently, maybe these guys aren’t so dumb. Maybe these guys really do have talent. Sports put that out there.

“The theater, television and movies did nothing except to exacerbate the problem with Amos and Andy, Stepin Fetchit and all the other images of blacks. Sports put blacks in the public eye.

“Sports cannot become the province of the middle class and the privileged  And that’s what’s happened.”