Tuesday, May 07, 2002

Paralyzed Washington safety Curtis Williams dies

AP Sports Writer

        SEATTLE — Even on their toughest days, Washington football players tried to remember that paralyzed safety Curtis Williams was going through much more.

        On Monday, the Huskies lost the one they called their “inspiration.”

        Williams died two days after his 24th birthday and nine days after he had visited his former teammates at Washington's annual spring game.

        He was paralyzed in a game at Stanford in October 2000 and was living with his brother in Fresno, Calif., where he died in his sleep early Monday of complications associated with his paralysis, athletic department spokesman Jim Daves said.

        Confined to a wheelchair and paralyzed from the neck down, Williams still smiled. He always smiled.

        “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 seemed to be doing well as he sat high above the Husky Stadium turf for the spring game.

        “That's the thing for us and our kids that's the hard part,” offensive line coach Brent Myers said. “He looked good, he looked happy. Even in the hardest of times he was a very positive person.”

        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.

        Williams' recent visit was the first time he had been back since his injury.

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

        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' temperature had been rising and falling rapidly the week before he came to Seattle, Daves said.

        Williams planned to attend Husky games this fall in Seattle and California, and was six classes short of earning his degree in American ethnic studies. He had hoped to finish in about a year through correspondence courses.

        “When Curtis came to campus two weeks ago, there were so many positives to look forward to,” athletic director Barbara Hedges said. “He was very upbeat.”

        Williams played in 24 games, starting every one 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 also are 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.

        On April 25, Williams appeared at a benefit dinner that raised $30,000 for the Curtis Williams Fund, which has grown to 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 university scholarship.

        Funeral arrangements were pending. Daves said Washington probably 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. “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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