Former San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks cornerback Jimmy Williams died on Friday at 43 years old.
The Baton Rouge Advocate reports that Williams died of an undisclosed illness. His alma mater Vanderbilt declined to provide additional details of his death while citing his family’s wishes, according to the Nashville Tennesseean.
Williams starred as a defensive back and return specialist at Vanderbilt, where he played from 1997-2000. An All-SEC cornerback, Williams averaged 23 yards per return over four seasons as a kick returner. Per the Tennessean, he’s one of three players in school history to record both a punt and kick return for a touchdown. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt in 2001.
His ‘energy and spirit filled a room’
Vanderbilt football coach Clark Lea released a statement on Friday remembering Williams as a “true Vanderbilt legend” who “will be remembered for the energy and spirit with which he filled a room” and his “devotion” to “his beautiful family.” He wrote that he had just hosted Williams, his wife Chandra and their son Ace at his home on Wednesday.
Williams’ NFL career
The Buffalo Bills selected Williams in the sixth round of the 2001 NFL draft. He eventually joined the 49ers that season without playing a down for the Bills. Williams played four seasons in San Francisco as a return specialist and backup cornerback. He led the league among players who qualified with 16.8 yards per punt return in 2002.
The 49ers released a statement on Friday mourning Williams’ death.
Williams joined the Seahawks in 2005 and played his last two seasons in Seattle, where he was a special teams captain. He played in Seattle’s Super Bowl loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers after the 2005 season. The Seahawks also released a statement on Friday.
Teacher, coach, philanthropist
A Louisiana native, Williams returned to his hometown Baton Rouge with Chandra after retiring from the NFL. In 2004, he and Chandra started the Jimmy Williams Intercepting Our Youth Foundation that provided scholarships to local high school students, donated school supplies and hosted summer youth camps.
Williams most recently coached football, taught and served as assistant athletic director at his his high school alma mater Episcopal School of Baton Rouge. Episcopal released a statement and video honoring Williams on Friday.
“It’s a tough day,” Episcopal athletic director Randy Richard told the Advocate. “It’s such a huge loss. He was a great colleague, a friend and a coach that the athletes here loved. He was always smiling.”