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Originally published Wednesday, September 13, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Football remains focus for Williams family

J.D. Williams thought he had it under control. The older brother of former Husky safety Curtis Williams, J. D. came to Washington last...

Seattle Times staff reporter

J.D. Williams thought he had it under control.

The older brother of former Husky safety Curtis Williams, J.D. came to Washington last March to serve as UW's new secondary coach in part because he figured he could feel a renewed closeness to the memory of his brother by walking the same ground.

Curtis Williams, then a senior safety on a Rose Bowl-bound Huskies team, was paralyzed during a game at Stanford in 2000 and died of complications of those injuries in 2002.

And through 15 spring practices and 30 or so fall workouts on the same field where his brother had made his name, it had begun to feel comfortable.

Then came the opener against San Jose State and all the trappings of a Huskies game, including the freshly painted number 25 on the Huskies' sideline that is a lasting memorial to Curtis Williams.

"For some reason, it really affects me on game day," J.D. Williams said. "You go out there every day for practice, it's fine. But then you go out there and you see the crowd, you see the number, it has an effect on you."

Saturday

Fresno State @ Washington, Husky Stadium, 3:30 p.m., FSN.

So what it will feel like this week now that the opponent is Fresno State, a team that happens to include the youngest member of the family, Paul, playing receiver could be off the charts.

In fact, the game will serve as something of a reunion for the Williams family, which grew up in Fresno.

About 25 other members of the Williams family will be in attendance, including older brother David, 42, who became the caretaker for Curtis Williams after his injury. Most of them have never seen a game at Husky Stadium, David included.

"I imagine it will be a little more emotional this week when you look across the field and you've got your brother there, you've got your family in the stands," said J.D. Williams. "It's a big game for the Williams family. But you've got to try to treat it as just another game. If not, the emotions will get the best of you."

And he knows that can't happen if he is to put in place some schemes to help the Huskies put the clamps on his little brother, who has developed into a receiver with a legitimate NFL future.

"He's faster than I can remember," said J.D. of Paul, who stands 6 feet 2, weighs 210 pounds and caught 43 passes for 729 yards last season. He has five catches for 49 yards in two games this season.

Paul Williams, 16 years younger than J.D., was a junior in high school on that dreary Oct. 28 day at Stanford when Curtis Williams was injured while making a tackle late in the third quarter against a Stanford team coached by Tyrone Willingham.

Paul initially wanted to give up the game, a feeling J.D., then an assistant coach at Fresno State after playing six years in the NFL, including four Super Bowls, understood all too well.

"I imagine at some point we both kind of struggled with the game," J.D. Williams said. "Here's a game that's kind of given me everything and it's taken everything away from Curtis. And with Paul's talent, I would imagine it will give him a lot because he's put a lot into that. But you kind of struggle with that. I don't know if it's guilt or what, but those are things you struggle with, that I will continue to struggle with. But it gets easier as the years pass."

For Paul Williams, the deciding factor in whether to continue playing was a conversation with Curtis.

"He told me he wanted to watch me play," Paul Williams said. "I've been playing ever since trying to make him proud."

Sometimes, though, the specter of what happened to his brother can loom uncomfortably. Paul Williams took a vicious hit late in the first half Saturday against Oregon, falling groggily to the ground before getting up, and sending a momentary chill through anybody who knew the family history.

David Williams recalled watching that hit and "just hoping everything will be all right."

Paul said emphatically that it is.

"It's going to take more than that to keep me off the field," he said. "That's part of football. Football's given me an opportunity to get my education and an opportunity to play with my friends and everything. What happened to my brother was a freak accident. That could have happened to anybody. I'm not mad at the game of football. It's in our blood, you could say."

That Paul bounced right back up is indicative of the entire family, which saw life altered forever that day at Stanford.

David put his life on hold to care for Curtis, and J.D. turned down an opportunity to work for Willingham at Notre Dame so he could stay close, eventually taking a job at Cal. Paul also decided against any thoughts of coming to UW, the school he initially wanted to attend, so he could stay nearby.

After Curtis Williams died, the family endured the additional tragedy of both parents passing away within about four months of each other in 2003. David Williams, now healthy, also suffered a couple of heart attacks.

Through it all, the family vowed to stay together. Fulfilling that wish is one reason so many will be in attendance at Husky Stadium on Saturday.

"I've always been kind of the one who has gotten everyone together and kept everyone together," David Williams said. "When my dad passed away, he left me a note telling me to please keep the family together. So that's kind of my goal as long as I'm alive that we all stay close and together."

Not all can make it Saturday. Curtis Williams' daughter, Kimberly, now 12 and living in Alaska with her mother, won't be able to attend though she will be represented — her birthday is Feb. 25, the reason Curtis Williams wore that number for the UW, a number that is now immortalized on the field.

"They're coming not just because I'm coaching and Paul's playing," said J.D. Williams. "It's a way they feel they can get a little closer to Curtis, also."

So they'll remember Curtis, while also trying to remember that he'd want them to worry more about the game.

"Every time I suit up I think about Curtis, so I'm really going to be thinking about him this week," Paul Williams said. "But I'm going to try to do my best and make everybody proud. And I'm sure [J.D.] is going to do his best to make everybody proud."

Note

• Willingham announced that DE Anthony Atkins, who has been academically ineligible, has finally been cleared. Atkins practiced Tuesday but is almost certain to redshirt this season. He will have two years left to play.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

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