Vista Ridge wide receiver Brandon "Bebe" Hills, center, was shot in the chest at the base of his tattoo last December while attending a house party with his friends and teammates JoJo Garnett, left, and Auston Nash. Garnett and Nash saved Hill's life by rushing him to the hospital. The trio and their Vista Ridge football team play Palmer Ridge this weekend in the 4A state semifinals in Monument. Picture taken Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022, at Vista Ridge High School in Colorado Springs. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Speed is what keeps Brandon Hills feeling alive, and also what kept him alive. 

In December the Vista Ridge senior was leaving a get-together with friends when an intruder intercepted them at the door, firing shots and receiving shots in return that hit six people, including Hills. 

Hills sprinted the other way and out the back door alongside teammates JoJo Garnett and Auston Nash. The three hopped two fences before settling a block away from their car. That's when Hills looked down and discovered his once-white shirt had turned dark red — the realization that he took a bullet to the chest sending his adrenaline even higher. 

They continued to run, this time to the car. Garnett drove with the other two in the backseat. The drive from Widefield to UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central was projected to take 30-plus minutes, but the three made it in 15.

"I went into instant shock," Hills said. "There was so much adrenaline, and I couldn't really feel anything. I just looked down at a hole in my chest.

"Doctors said I'm really lucky — an inch either way and I'm dead. If the drive had taken any longer, I'm dead."

Through shock, he directed Garnett to the hospital, with Nash in the back trying to copy Hills' calmness. 

Hills was admitted to the hospital Dec. 11, 2021, with a gunshot wound right next to his heart, a collapsed lung and bleeding. A chest tube was used to help him overcome the oxygen gap for the first half of his stint. 

A surgery later removed the bullet through his back to eliminate future complications with the foreign object in his body. 

Doctors gave Hills a four- to six-month timetable for returning to "normal." Six days later, he was running up the stairs of his home. A month later, he was back running indoor track. At times, his mother, Tamika, even had to tell him to calm down and relax. 

The week he was in the hospital, crowds gathered in the parking lot. 

No one, except close family, was allowed to go visit because of COVID-19 protocols, so the crowd passed around the phone of Hills' father, Brandon Sr., with a video chat running to show support.

Food, gift cards, flowers and other gifts were given by Palmer Ridge and Vista Ridge players and coaches, among others. Each day in the parking lot different food was given to supporters.

"It was important for me to be there for 'BeBe' because he's like family," Palmer Ridge senior K.J. Smedley said. "When I heard the news about him getting shot, my heart just sank and I knew I needed to go down there.

"(We) wanted to be there for Mrs. Tamika and his dad, Big Brandon." 

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K.J. and Brandon have been playing against, or with one another, since the two were in fifth grade. Others, like Bears senior Chris Rice, have been around to train and play with the wideout, too.  

Both teammates involved have lived with Hills at times and the three have been friends since middle school. 

The 9-millimeter bullet that entered Hills' chest showed the "Wolverine" side of him — the ability to heal through an injury so fast that doctors gave him the nickname. 

It also showed the heart of the football community. Coach Mike Vrana received texts from all over the state, even from coaches and players he barely knew. 

Diontea Jackson-Forrest also played under Vrana when he was an assistant at Wasson, and the running back was shot and killed in 2007 on a trip home from Western State where he was playing football. 

"I needed to see him to make sure he was all right, and all I could think about was what I would say at his funeral," Vrana said. "I've done it for a player before and I never wanted to have to do that again." 

Hills not only pulled through, he sped through his recovery.

He competed in his first track and field event March 24, setting a personal record with 24-feet-6 inches in the long jump. That was 3 ½ months after the gunshot, and the mark stood as the best in the state throughout the season by nearly 3 ½ feet.

Hills also set a personal record of 21.66 seconds in the 200-meter dash during his junior track & field season.

Washington State offered him a football scholarship on April 13, and he accepted with a verbal commitment in June.

This fall, he leads the state in all classes with 1,519 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns. He has helped Vista Ridge into a 4A quarterfinal on Saturday against Palmer Ridge, where he will square off with foes who stood vigil during his darkest moment.

No arrest has been made in the shooting.

The moments immediately after the shooting passed by in a blur. The 11 months that have followed have ticked away with seemingly equal speed.

But even Brandon Hills, always seeking a faster gear, is sometimes slowed by the realization of how close everything came to an abrupt stop.

"I'm just lucky to be alive, honestly," he said. "I don't want to live life scared, though. I just appreciate the life I have, the friends and family I have and the coach I have.

"I now appreciate everything, even more."   

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