Paralyzed Washington safety Curtis Williams dies

Posted: Tuesday, May 07, 2002

SEATTLE (AP) -- Washington safety Curtis Williams always smiled, even confined to a wheelchair, paralyzed from the neck down.

His death Monday, two days after his 24th birthday, came as a shock to those around the football program.

He had looked so good sitting high above the Husky Stadium turf for the spring game.

''Fantastic kid,'' offensive line coach Brent Myers said. ''It's a tragedy. He's got a great smile. That's who he is. He was always upbeat. He called the team every Thursday night before a game.''

Williams, paralyzed in a game at Stanford in October 2000, was at his brother's home in Fresno, Calif., when he died in his sleep early Monday of complications associated with his paralysis, Washington athletic department spokesman Jim Daves said.

''His smile captivated everybody,'' kicker John Anderson said after a team meeting in which players shared stories about Williams. ''He was just a special, special guy on and off the field.''

Williams was hurt in a helmet-to-helmet hit while attempting to tackle Cardinal running back Kerry Carter. He had spinal-cord surgery and was left with no voluntary muscle movement.

He was in Seattle on April 27 to watch the spring game and attend other events on campus. It was the first time Williams had been back since he was injured.

''This has been a real tragedy, from that late October day until today when he passed away,'' said coach Rick Neuheisel, in Spokane on Monday for an alumni golf tournament.

''Although he was confined to his wheelchair, Curtis taught all of us associated with Husky football the true meaning of the word courage,'' Neuheisel added. ''I think anyone who met or was associated with that kid, they will find it hard to ever feel sorry for themselves.

''I will always admire Curtis for his tremendous courage and for inspiring all of us to learn to persevere in tough times. We always said that he was a warrior on the field. What we learned was that he was a warrior in life.''

Williams died sometime between midnight and 7 a.m.

His brother, David, told The News Tribune of Tacoma that one of the overnight nurses caring for Williams ''walked in and noticed that his leg was cold and stiff and looked at him and started doing CPR immediately, but he didn't have a pulse or a heart beat.''

Williams had been in precarious health during his visit here. His temperature had been rising and falling rapidly the week before he arrived in Seattle, Daves said.

While here, Williams said he was looking forward to attending Husky games this fall in Seattle and California. He was six classes short of earning his degree from Washington in American Ethnic Studies. He had hoped to take correspondence courses and complete the work in about a year.

''When Curtis came to campus two weeks ago, there were so many positives to look forward to,'' athletic director Barbara Hedges said. ''I talked to him at the baseball game and at the spring game. He was very upbeat. He was thrilled to see his teammates and to meet with the academic services staff about completing his degree.''

Williams played in 24 games and started every game as a junior and senior before his injury. He finished his career with 142 tackles and one interception.

The Huskies dedicated their victory over Purdue in the Rose Bowl in January 2001 to Williams, wearing his initials on their jerseys. Williams attended the game. His initials are also engraved in the team's Rose Bowl rings. Even the men's and women's basketball teams at Washington have worn ''CW'' on their uniforms.

Williams appeared at a benefit dinner April 25 that raised $30,000 for the Curtis Williams Fund, which has raised more than $400,000.

Following his accident, the university established the fund to help support his long-term care and to assist with expenses beyond those covered by family, school and NCAA insurance. The money also will be used to establish a scholarship at the university.

Team chaplain Mike Rohrbach met with players Monday. Recruiting coordinator and running backs coach Chuck Heater was in the Fresno area recruiting and planned to visit the family, Myers said.

Funeral arrangements were pending. Daves said Washington likely would hold its own service in addition to one in Fresno.

''He gave his life to this program,'' said strong safety Greg Carothers, who replaced Williams in the starting lineup after the injury. ''He wanted me to treat it as if it was my spot. I definitely feel I'm a better player because of him.''

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