But early this morning, May 6, 2002, Williams died at his brother David's home in Fresno, California due to complete system failure.
He had just turned 24 two days earlier. The news hit everyone hard; relatives of Curtis, teammates - both past and present, high school and college coaches who'd had the opportunity to work with him, the large base of Husky fans across the region, and all those who ever came into contact with the young man. He was truly one of a kind.
"Total shock," said former Husky Head Coach Jim Lambright, asked of his reaction today to the news of C-Dub's death. "I'm very proud of how he fought to keep getting better and I think that was very symbolic of Curtis's personality and should be a large part of the legacy that he leaves behind."
Brendan Jones, a former safety on the Huskies that teamed with Curtis early in his career, had a different perspective. "That guy was an awesome football player, and such a nice guy," he said. "He had some trip ups, some tough things that went on in his life, but the positive outlook that he always had was awesome. To say the thing that stood out most about him - that boy could hit! He could lay a lick on someone. That's what I remember most."
"We're going to miss him," Jones said. "Obviously we're all thinking about him. And I know that everyone else is thinking about him the way I've been thinking about him for the last year and a half."
Curtis' first couple years at the University of Washington were tumultuous to say the least. He fathered a daughter, Kimberly, and married the mother. The marriage didn't last, however, and that affected Curtis both on and off the field.
"Most of my involvement with Curtis was off the field," said Dick Baird, long time Husky position coach on Lambright's staff. "He really loved his daughter and that made it really hard for him to finally make the decision to get a divorce. I had to make him realize that he was divorcing his wife and not his daughter. We tried to assist him off the field stuff as much as on the field."
Lambright kept faith in Williams despite his struggles in life, seeing that the athlete had a lot to deal with off the field. "I think Curtis was an example of a player who struggled through problems while adjusting into a new area, but probably more than anything else he was struggling with being an athlete as well as a parent," said Lambright. "Trying to keep the rapport with her relatives and keep on track as far as the football and the academic world."
When Rick Neuheisel took over for Lambright in 1999, he quickly saw a future in Williams at the safety position. Prior to that, C-Dub was always just an amazing athlete who could never put it all together long enough for extended playing time. Under the new head coach, he thrived. Teaming with Hakim Akbar at safety, the duo helped propel the team to victory after victory. Washington would reach the Holiday Bowl in '99, Williams' first year as a full-time starter, and win the Rose Bowl in 2000, having to use freshman safety Greg Carothers after Williams went down midway through the season.
"He had such a great senior year," Baird said. "He and Akbar really reminded you of Tony Parish and Lawyer Malloy, the kind of safeties we had back earlier in the 90's. It looked like Curtis would certainly get a chance to play at the next level."
But that fateful day in Palo Alto in the pouring rain ended all of those thoughts in a hurry. A year-and-a-half after the injury, Williams had recently shown slight improvement and was working on finishing his degree. He had also talked to the football coaches about one day helping out again around Husky Stadium. Things were looking up, adding to the shock of today's news of Curtis' passing.
"I'd always been following this thinking, ‘We're over the hill now, he's lived longer than a year,' said Baird. "I was always prepared for the fact that there could be a body failure because obviously your nerves going to all your organs, and all your different parts of your system. I think I was prepared that something like this could happen, but you're never really prepared to lose a kid, especially one who was such a battler."
Despite the pain from today's news, Baird realizes that he was lucky to be able to see Curtis just a week-and-a-half ago, which gave him the opportunity to say goodbye. "I feel so good because I got to go to the dinner a week or so ago, and look into his eyes and feel his spirit again," said the former coach. "Now that he's passed I feel privileged that I got to spend some time with him."
When dawgman.com first started covering recruiting heavily, Curtis Williams was in that initial class that we studied. We were so excited about Jim Lambright signing an all-American running back, and couldn't wait for Husky fans to see how special he would be.
Little did we know at the time that it would be his smile, his drive, and his heroic competitive spirit that would capture Husky fan's hearts.
After all, it was only a week-and-a-half ago that Curtis Williams had flown to Seattle to take part in a fund-raising dinner for the Curtis Williams Fund. There, he looked upbeat and in high spirits, seemingly the product of a year's worth of rehabilitation from the spinal injury he suffered in late October 2000.
An interview we conducted with him early in his junior season will always remain in my heart. He talked about how happy he was to finally be back in the swing of football, school work, and how lucky he was to get another chance.
He then smiled that trademark C-Dub smile and said, "Thanks for taking the time and remembering me."
I'll never forget those words or that smile.
Plenty of athletes will run out of the Husky tunnel in the years to come, continuing the legacy that Curtis Williams left behind. Many will be faster, some will start more games, others will surely have more interceptions, but nobody will ever leave the impression on all of our hearts that #25 did in his five years as a Husky.
Speaking for Husky fans everywhere, we'll miss you C-Dub. God Bless.
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