Born: June 23, 1968 – Pineview, GA
Wilcox County H.S., 1987
Pittsburg State University, 1992
Harlon Hill Award, 1991
Persistence and determination paid off for Ronnie West, who in 1991, was selected as the best college football player in the country at the NCAA Division II level.
While the Heisman Trophy signifies the top football player in Division I each year, the Harlon Hill Award honors the top player in Division II.
West, a native of Pineview, Ga., was voted the Hill Award as a senior in 1991, leading Pittsburg State University to the Division II national championship with a 13-1-1 record, including 11 straight victories to end the season.
But, West's path to stardom wasn’t an easy one. One of eight children, he graduated from Wilcox County High, where he was a first-team all-state receiver at the Rochelle, Ga., school. He helped lead Wilcox County to a 23-3 mark during his junior and senior years.
Following high school, West attended Valdosta State University on a football scholarship.
The coaches at Valdosta State wanted West to play defensive back. Instead, he transferred to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, a junior college in Miami, Okla. But, once again, the coaching staff at NEO wanted West to become a defensive back.
West eventually quit school and joined an Army Reserve unit in Pittsburg, 40 miles from Miami.
That's how he discovered Pittsburg State. He walked into the football office one day and talked with the coaches.
“I told them I wanted to be a receiver," West said in a story in the Pittsburg Morning-Sun. "They looked at me as if to say, 'Huh?' I figured if I couldn't play receiver, I wouldn't play."
To their credit, the Gorilla coaches agreed.
The rest, as they say, is history.
West redshirted in 1989 and then finished his decorated two-year career as Pittsburg State's all-time leading receiver, with 85 receptions for 1,779 yards and 21 touchdowns. He was a two-time first-team Division II All-American selection, earning consensus first-team honors in 1991 when he caught 50 passes for 1,044 yards and 12 touchdowns.
West was also a two-time first-team All-MIAA selection, earning MIAA Offensive Player of the Year honors in 1991. He led Division II in punt returns his junior season in 1990.
During the summer prior to his senior year, West and Pitt State quarterback Brian Hutchins worked together three times a day—at 5 a.m., at noon and again at 7 p.m.—executing countless pass patterns.
"It was our last year together, and I wanted us to be ready," said West.
They were. The two hooked up six times for over 100 yards in the first half of the 1991 national title game against Jacksonville (Ala.) University, which eventually became a 23-6 victory for the Kansas team.
West was selected in the ninth round of the 1992 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings where he enjoyed a brief NFL career before a major knee injury prematurely ended his professional experience. West did return from the injury to play for the London Monarchs of the World League of American Football in 1995 and ‘97.
West was inducted into the Pittsburg State Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame in 2002. The annual most valuable special team player award at Pitt State is also named in his honor.
Not bad for a player who some coaches didn’t think could cut it as a receiver.