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Super Bowl-winning NFL player Ronnie Hillman dies from rare form of cancer at 31

Hillman's family said he had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called renal medullary carcinoma.
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/ Source: TODAY

Ronnie Hillman, a running back who won the Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos, has died at the age of 31 from a rare form of cancer, his family said Dec. 21.

“It is with heavy hearts that we announce the passing of our beloved son, brother & father, Ronnie K Hillman Jr.,” the family said in a statement shared on Instagram.

“Ronnie quietly and peacefully transitioned today in the company of his family and close friends. We as the family, appreciate the prayers and kind words that have already been expressed. We ask that you would give us time to process our feelings as we prepare to lay our precious RJ to rest.”

Earlier in the day, Hillman’s family shared an update letting followers know that Hillman had been placed in hospice care, while announcing he had been diagnosed with renal medullary carcinoma in August.

“As a family, we hope beyond hope, and we have faith that can move mountains,” the statement said in part. “We also understand that God’s will is not always ours; therefore, we as a family subject ourselves to the will of our Almighty God. We need your prayers, but we also need your understanding and respect for Ronnie and our family’s privacy at this time.”

"Renal medullary carcinoma (RMC) is an aggressive form of non–clear cell kidney cancer that typically affects young adults and is almost exclusively associated with sickle cell trait," according to a 2014 report posted on the website for the National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine.

"Typical RMC patients tend to be young black males (2:1 male to female predominance) with sickle cell trait who present with pain and hematuria and are found to have metastatic disease at diagnosis. Prognosis is extremely poor, with a mean survival of less than a year in most cases."

Hillman was a third-round selection out of San Diego State University by the Broncos in the 2012 NFL Draft. He played the first four seasons of his career with Denver, helping the team win Super Bowl 50 in the 2015 season.

Ronnie Hillman
Ronnie Hillman was a key cog during the Broncos' run to the Super Bowl title in 2015, rushing for 863 yards and scoring seven touchdowns. Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images

He finished his NFL career in 2016, playing for the Minnesota Vikings and San Diego Chargers.

Hillman’s death comes on the heels of the death of former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Franco Harris, best known for his role in the iconic “Immaculate Reception.” Harris was 72 and his number is scheduled to be retired by the Steelers during their Dec. 24 game against the Las Vegas Raiders.