Jarvis Williams, UF football great, dies at 45
Published: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 at 2:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 at 4:45 p.m.
Jarvis Williams, one of the greatest defensive players in University of Florida football history, died suddenly Tuesday night in Palatka of an acute asthma attack. He had recently turned 45.
"Total shock, total surprise," said former UF wide receiver Ricky Nattiel, who played with Williams at Florida and was a close friend. "He was always in good shape and took care of himself. We always stayed in touch. I'm in shock right now."
Another former UF teammate, star running back Neal Anderson, said he also was knocked down by the news of Williams' death.
"I got a message about it on my phone and thought it was a mistake," Anderson said. "But I talked to (former UF quarterback) Kerwin Bell (the head coach at Jacksonville University) and Jarvis Williams Jr., who is the starting fullback at JU, and I knew it was true. It totally blindsided me. I know it happened, but it doesn't seem real."
Williams, who played strong safety for the Gators from 1984-87, was in his first year as a volunteer coach at Interlachen High School. He was at spring practice Tuesday afternoon, and appeared normal, Nattiel said. He died a little before midnight Tuesday at Putnam Community Medical Center.
"He was on the practice field yesterday and they said he was fine," Nattiel said. "Then at about 11:30 (Tuesday night) he died. I'm still trying to get the results."
Williams was a highly rated prospect coming out of Palatka High School in 1984. He signed with then-UF coach Charley Pell and was an instant contributor for the Gators. He started 45 consecutive games and was an All-America in 1987 and a two-time first-team All-SEC selection. He is probably best known for the devastating hit he put on Miami running back Melvin Bratton in 1986 at Florida Field that left Bratton momentarily unconscious.
Nattiel said Williams was a great teammate and friend.
"One of the best," Nattiel said. "He was one of the hardest hitters I ever played with or against. He was one of the nicest guys off the field and one of the meanest on it. He was the ideal football player.
"He was the type of guy you always wanted to be around. He always had a great attitude, he always worked hard and he was always smiling. He would brighten up the room. He's one of the finest guys you'll ever be around. He kept you laughing off the field. He was just an all-around good guy."
Williams was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the second round in the 1988 NFL Draft. For five seasons (1989-93) Williams started in the Miami secondary alongside former UF star free safety Louis Oliver. Williams had a six-year NFL career with the Dolphins and New York Giants.
After he left UF, Williams' name was linked to a controversy that ultimately led to the firing of Florida coach Galen Hall during the 1989 season. Hall was accused by the NCAA of making a child-support payment for Williams that kept Williams out of jail while he was playing for the Gators.
Hall has always denied making the payment for Williams.
During his UF career, Williams started every game for four straight seasons, recording 239 tackles and 10 interceptions.
Anderson, the former All-Pro with the Chicago Bears, said the thing he remembers most about Williams is the devastating hits he produced on the field.
"He was someone who was just blessed," Anderson said. "I don't know if he understood leverage, but he had some of the best leverage a human could have. It was unbelievable what he could do, how much force he could put behind a hit.
"When we were both in the pros, I'd watch him on film and he was doing the same thing in the NFL. You'd see linemen coming down field to make a block and he would just stun them, pop them. He was kind of a freak of nature how he could do that."
One of Williams' defensive coordinators at Florida was Zavan Yaralian, who went on to become an NFL defensive coordinator. Williams played for Yaralian at UF and with the New York Giants.
"I just spoke to Jarvis two months ago at a football clinic in Jacksonville," said Yaralian, who owns a golf resort in Colorado. "We said, 'Let's stay in touch, let's get together.' It's tragic.
"Jarvis was always the kindest guy, but the toughest football player on the field. I just hope everyone remembers him as one of best strong safeties to play the game at Florida."
Williams was named to The Sun's UF Team of the Century in 1999. In 2001, he was inducted into the UF Athletic Hall of Fame.
"People die every day," said Nattiel, who worked with Williams on the Ocala Trinity Catholic coaching staff for several seasons. "But it really touches you when it comes at such an early age to someone you are close to. I'm going to miss him."
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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