ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Ronnie Hillman was shy with a big smile. He loved family and football.
As the youngest player in the NFL when drafted in 2012, he worked to become the Broncos' leading rusher on the Super Bowl 50 championship team.
His passing Thursday from a rare form of cancer shook his former teammates. Hillman was 31.
"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. "Ronnie quietly and peacefully transitioned today in the company of his family and close friends."
Hillman, a third round pick in 2012, was diagnosed with renal medullary carcinoma, defined as a “a rare but highly aggressive neoplasm form of cancer that primarily affects young African Americans with sickle cell trait."
Teammates asked for prayers for Hillman this week as the former San Diego State star entered hospice care.
"He was just a kind, loving human, who always wanted more," former teammate Orlando Franklin told Denver7.
Hillman grew up in Long Beach, Calif., and played in rapper Snoop Dogg's youth football league. Snoop interviewed Hillman during Super Bowl 50 media day, proud of his alum. While splitting time with C.J. Anderson, Hillman led the Broncos in rushing with 863 yards and seven touchdowns on 207 attempts in 2015, his best season in the pros.
“Prayers up. Rest Easy Brother,” tweeted C.J. Anderson.
Hillman, known for his game-breaking speed, finished his Broncos career with 1,845 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns.
"We are deeply saddened by the untimely passing of former Denver Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman. A key contributor to the winningest four-year period in franchise history, Ronnie was part of two Super Bowl teams and led the Broncos in rushing during our Super Bowl 50 championship season," the Broncos released in a statement.
"Soft spoken with a warm smile and quiet intensity, Ronnie was drafted by the Broncos in 2012 and grew into a dynamic player and well-respected teammate. He will be fondly remembered by our organization, which extends its heartfelt sympathies and condolences to the Hillman family during this difficult times.”
A year ago, Super Bowl 50 teammate Demaryius Thomas passed away from complications from a seizure. Both were warmly and highly regarded by teammates and fans.
Hillman's family, who called him RJ, said more information about a memorial will be forthcoming.
"Fly high, bro," tweeted former Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall.
Added teammate Omar Bolden, "I lost a brother and a friend…. I am so hurt and heartbroken. Ronnie, I LOVE YOU BRO, YOU WILL ALWAYS BE MY LIL BROTHER!!! May your soul rest in peace. Until we meet again my brotha."