Former FIU receiver Chandler Williams passed away Saturday evening. Williams was playing in a flag football tournament at the JCC in Aventura when he passed from natural causes. Williams was 27.
Having covered FIU football since it started back in 2002, I remember Williams as a humble, kind and confident man, who always went out of his way to be friendly with teammates and strangers alike. Williams always had a smile on his face.
In the early stages of the FIU football program back in 2002-03, I had just started working at the Miami Herald as the FIU beat writer and was trying to learn about this new program and all of the new players. Williams, who was a 17-year-old freshman recently graduated from Miami High, would joke with me to keep an eye out for him because he was going to produce on the field.
Williams certainly did. On the field, Williams was one of the most talented receivers FIU ever had. When Williams graduated from FIU he left holding seven program receiving records. Williams caught 203 passes for 2,519 yards and 8 touchdowns. Williams was FIU's leading receiver in the 2005 and 2006 seasons. As an FIU fan put it earlier tonight: "Before FIU had T.Y. Hilton, FIU had Chandler Williams."
Off the field, Williams also had a tremendous impact with his teammates. It was not a rare sight to see Williams taking the younger receivers aside, long after that day's practice concluded, and helping those players refine their route running or mentoring them about daily college life.
Even to this day Williams was a terrific ambassador for FIU football. During tonight's FIU basketball game, I got a phone call from recently graduated FIU receiver Wayne Times, who wanted to tell me that he was being mentored by Williams the last few months to get him ready for a pro football tryout later this year. Although Times played three years after Williams at FIU and for a different coach, Williams reached out to Panther football players regardless of the era they played at FIU.
Williams went on to become FIU's second-ever NFL Draft pick when the Minnesota Vikings selected him in the seventh round of the 2007 NFL Draft. Williams played in the NFL five seasons and was preparing to start camp with the Tampa Bay Storm of the Arena Football League later this year.
Former FIU defensive back Kevin Timothee called me earlier on Saturday evening with the sad news and to talk about his time with Chandler as a teammate and a friend.
"Chandler was a role model for any young kid in college," Timothee said. "Chandler never got in trouble, always went to class, graduated and became a loving father."
"I hated when Chandler was on the scout team that first season of FIU football when he was redshirting," Timothee joked. "Scout team receivers are not supposed to be as good as Chandler showed to be. He got me in trouble because he was going 100 miles-per-hour and ran great routes. Chandler worked his butt off everyday. I watched him grow up at FIU."
Timothee was the first FIU football player to sign with an NFL team when he signed as a free agent with the Tennessee Titans in 2005. When Timothee was getting ready to head to training camp in Nashville, guess who he called to practice defending the pass?
"When I had to get ready for Titans camp I called Chandler because I knew he would make me better," Timothee said. "[Former FIU defensive back] Greg Moss did the same thing when he was getting ready to go to the CFL. We both called Chandler because as a receiver he made us defensive backs work. He made us better. We needed that. He was a good dude."