Vista Ridge’s Brandon Hills breaks state record in long jump

LAKEWOOD — With a scar on his chest and the feeling he had nothing to lose, Brandon Hills zoomed down the runway at Jeffco Stadium toward history.

The Vista Ridge senior broke the state record in the long jump with a mark of 24 feet, 8 inches on Friday afternoon. It marked Hills’ full-circle journey to re-staking his claim as Colorado’s top long jumper after coming back from a gunshot wound to his chest and then getting upset in the event’s finals a year ago.

“This is what I’ve worked for,” Hills said of the state record. “I knew I was capable of this but I never put the pen to paper. I would always foul it, or be behind the board. It was a lot of fouls and courtesy measures to this point… I feel blessed and grateful because I’ve come a long way (over the last few years).”

The first time Hills won the 5A long jump title, he was a rising sophomore with promise on the track and the football field. In the time since, “Bebe” remained grounded, humble and insatiable in the wake of prep stardom and the near-death experience he went through on Dec. 11, 2021, while leaving a party in southern Colorado Springs.

As gunfire broke out, Hills and his two friends ran and hopped several fences to get to Hills’ car. That’s when Hills realized he was shot in his left chest. One of his friends — who didn’t have a driver’s license — then raced Hills to Memorial Hospital, the speedometer routinely in the triple-digits, where he underwent emergency surgery to remove the stray bullet.

“I was caught at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Hills said. “I was blessed to be able to overcome that situation, and just continue being me. That checked my perspective a lot. It made me realize where I should be, who I should surround myself with. It gave me a better perspective on life because I know I have a lot to lose.”

He arrived at the ER starting to bleed out and with a collapsed lung.

“He was starting to get light-headed in the car, but I just kept talking to him to try to make sure he stayed up,” said friend and teammate Auston Nash, who was with Hills that night. “That’s the first time I was like, ‘Wow, I might be losing my best friend.’ Then when we got to the hospital, they weren’t letting us in because I guess some other people had already got shot and the hospital was on lockdown. I had to tell them, ‘He’s shot and he’s bleeding out.’ They let us in and took him straight to surgery.”

The spray of bullets hit five other people at the party, and afterward, Hills said he had to answer questions from college recruiters wondering how he got into that situation. The bullet lodged into Hills’ pectoral, narrowly missing his heart and major arteries — cheating death by centimeters.

‘”I’m not in any gangs or any trouble like that, I’m a military child, I’m a pretty normal person,” Hills said. “For something to happen like that, I had to answer a lot of questions. But I got past that and I continued to grow as a person, a football player and on the track.”

Hills was out of the hospital in five days — “the first day he came home he took off running up the steps of his house,” Nash recalled — and resumed full football/track activities about a month later.

“I could tell mentally, (being shot) was all still there with him, but he just didn’t really talk about it,” Vista Ridge football coach Mike Vrana said. “His recovery and his return became something binding for the school and the community. And when he showed up to the basketball game (in early 2022) for his first time back at school, there were tears everywhere.”

After posting a 1,000-yard receiving season as a junior, Hills topped that feat as a senior, with a state-leading 1,548 yards receiving and 20 touchdowns. The All-Colorado selection averaged 129 yards per game while helping Vista Ridge to the Class 4A quarterfinals. A Washington State commit, he projects as a speedy slot receiver at the next level.

“He’s got a chance to put up numbers at WSU similar to what he did in high school,” Vrana said. “That offense is pretty much made for him, and it’s more or less what he ran in high school with our variation of the Air Raid. And I think he has a chance early to shine in special teams up there.”

But even with his college football commitment in the bag, Hills wasn’t satisfied with his prep career just yet, wanting to atone for finishing runner-up to Fort Collins’ Dontay Johnson in the 5A long jump last year.

The winner was never in question on Friday when Hills had locked up the title by his second jump in the finals.

So on his third and final jump — with the crowd slow-clapping for him as he sprinted down the runway — Hill went all out for the state record. After Hills splashed into sand, the fans roared. Hills topped his PR by nine inches, won the title by over two feet to his next-closest competitor and broke a 33-year old record previously held by Montbello’s Chris Sanders (24-feet, 7.5-inches).

“I’ve been jumping big jumps this entire year, but haven’t been able to crack 24,” Hills said. “Finally on the last moment at the biggest stage, I got to do it. On the takeoff I felt it was good. I didn’t know it was going to be far, but I had a lot of energy from the crowd and I knew it was going to be something big coming down.”

It was an eye-opening moment in a prep career full of them, as Vista Ridge assistant football coach Chris Dooley explained. And it might not be the final one. Hills is running in Saturday’s finals in the 100- and 200-meters, and with some of the fastest times in the state in those events coming into this weekend’s meet, he could well win both.

“Bebe has this unique ability to compartmentalize everything — everything that’s going on around him, everything that happened with the shooting, everything going on on the sidelines — and raise his play to a whole other stratosphere,” Dooley said. “When he gets the ball, whenever he gets passed the baton or the (starter’s) gun goes off or he starts down the runway — you hold your breath for that split-second to see something that you’ve probably never seen before, and might not again. He’s that type of athlete and he proves it again and again.”

Denver Post reporter Brendan Ploen contributed to this report.

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