Mannix About Manatee: Death of Todd Williams loss of inspirational man

January 12, 2014 

Todd Williams would've been excited big time last Monday night.

When Florida State won the national championship in those dramatic final seconds at the Rose Bowl, the former Seminoles offensive tackle would've felt like part of him was out there, too.

But he never got to enjoy that moment.

Williams, 35, was found dead Monday morning at the Tamiami Trail hotel he called home the last six years.

What a tragedy.

Such a loss.

The shock of his abrupt passing lingers for many who knew Williams and were touched by this gentle giant and genuine inspiration.

"Gone too soon," said Jerry Parrish, the YMCA's omnipresent Youth at Risk director.

What Williams died from we don't know yet.

That he suffered for several weeks from stomach pains, loss of appetite and vomiting yet never went to a hospital is puzzling.

While law enforcement saw no signs of foul play, an autopsy and toxicology report will provide answers in due time.

What we do know is this was a young man, who beat long odds. The arc of his life is the stuff of which movies are made.

They should've made one about Todd Williams.

• Abandoned by his parents, he's homeless as a teen after his grandmother died.

• He heads to Miami, becomes a petty thief and ends up in juvenile detention.

• He returns to Bradenton and, mentored by caring guidance counselors

and coaches, he becomes an all-state lineman for Southeast.

• A redshirt freshman on FSU's 1999 national champions, he goes on to be a two-year starter and a double-major graduate in criminology and sociology, then wins the NCAA's 2002 Inspirational Athlete of the Year Award.

• He's a seventh-round 2003 draft pick by the Tennessee Titans.

Yet even before his football career ended, Williams went about showing our community's troubled youth they could overcome life's barriers, self-inflicted or otherwise.

Sports camps. Classrooms. Church.

Williams was at home anywhere delivering his message.

"Todd was ... trying to help kids get second chances, kind of like he was given by some people at our school," said Paul Maechtle, Southeast's recently retired head football coach.

That included kids Williams taught at Manatee Y Technological High School, where character counts along with classwork.

"He chose to come back to his home community and find a place where he could work with kids ... in similar positions as he was when he was growing up," said Sean Allison, Manatee County YMCA president and chief executive officer.

The impression Williams made on people was profound.

There was that Sunday morning which rang out with ovations and salutations at Suncoast Harvest Center, where he was honored as a real hometown hero.

Mayor Wayne Poston proclaimed it Todd Williams Day.

That was July 2003.

What Williams represented was enduring.

"(He) brought a lot of joy to a lot of kids," Jerry Parrish said. "(He was) just a servant ... a good, good human being."

A good human being gone much too soon.

Mannix About Manatee, by columnist Vin Mannix, is about people and issues in Manatee County. Call Vin at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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