A humble giant who excelled in three sports

  • By Scott M. Johnson / Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, July 27, 2005 9:00pm
  • Sports

Editor’s note: This is the third in a six-part series looking at some of the best athletes in Snohomish County history. The countdown includes 10 athletes per day for the first four days, and five athletes per day Saturday and Sunday. The Herald will give special attention to one athlete each day.

He played football with Ahmad Rashad before he was Ahmad Rashad and Dan Fouts before the beard. He spent most of his college basketball career backing up All-America center Stan Love. He was on the same track team as Steve Prefontaine and once played football for Hank Stram.

For a man who stood 6-foot-8 and weighed 300 pounds, Mike Williams spent much of his athletic career standing in the shadows of others. And he probably had a lot of stories to tell.

Yet when his athletic career ended, due in large part to a knee injury he suffered during his junior year at the University of Oregon, Williams went on with his life and never gave much thought to the past. The stories of his glory days were left to be told by others, because big Mike Williams wasn’t much for living in the past.

”He grew up his whole life around sports,” said Greg Williams, Mike’s younger brother by a year, ”but once it was over, he never looked back.”

For the final 20 years, before a heart disease took his life in 1996, Mike Williams was content with his career in computer software. His large frame undoubtedly reminded strangers that he once competed in sports, but no one could have possibly imagined the peaks of his athletic career.

While at Lake Stevens High School in the late 1960s, Williams played on one of the best high school football teams of the era. He helped lead the Vikings’ basketball team to the state tournament two years in a row, averaging 25 points and 12 rebounds per game. And Williams set state records in both the shot put and discus.

”He was on the front page of the sports section for two or three years straight,” Greg Williams said.

Mike Williams was so accomplished at all three sports that he got letters from Division I schools all over the country – from Washington to Stanford to Notre Dame. The University of Oregon offered him a track scholarship and invited him to continue playing football and basketball while attending college, so that made his decision an easy one.

Williams continued to excel in all three sports, competing in football with Bobby Moore (who later changed his name to Ahmad Rashad) and Dan Fouts, basketball with Stan Love and track with Steve Prefontaine.

While track was his primary focus (Williams once put the shot more than 69 feet and nearly qualified for the Olympic Trials) and basketball brought plenty of memories (he played in a game in which the Ducks upset John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins), Williams knew that football was his future. He was a huge defensive tackle whose career highlight came when he tackled O.J. Simpson near the goal line to clinch an upset of mighty USC. He was on track to be a high draft pick before a freak injury derailed his career.

According to brother Greg Williams, Mike blew out his knee during the final spring football workout of his junior year when a teammate ran into him shortly after a coach blew the whistle to call for the end of practice. The injury required surgery, and Mike Williams – the athlete – was never the same.

Williams played his senior year but had a disappointing season. The Kansas City Chiefs, who were then coached by Stram, chose him in the 12th round of the 1972 NFL draft but did not keep him around beyond training camp.

Never one to sulk, Williams quickly got into the world of computer software and never looked back.

“‘He had never planned on being a professional athlete,” said Bruce Kennaugh, a classmate and friend from Lake Stevens High. ”Engineering was what he wanted to do.”

”He was not only a big, huge athlete, but he was also very intelligent,” former teammate Jack Swaney added. ”He was salutatorian of our (1967) class.”

Thompson put the same amount of effort into his new career as he had in the athletic arena. When he fell ill with a viral infection in the early 1980s, Thompson went against doctors’ wishes and left the hospital after only one day, according to brother Greg. More than a decade later, when the virus had settled in his heart, Williams returned again seeking medical treatment but was told he was too late. In need of a heart transplant, Williams lived for only two or three more weeks. He passed away on Dec. 29, 1996, at the age of 47.

”It was a big shock, especially with someone like him, who was my lifetime idol,” Greg Williams said.

Mike Williams still holds the Lake Stevens High record in the shot put (62 feet, 1 inch), while his 43 points against Stanwood in a 1966 basketball game remains the most ever scored by a LSHS player. And Williams’ football team won 37 games in a row, beating teams by an average score of 40-3 his senior year. His legacy has not been forgotten.

Last fall, Lake Stevens High enshrined him in the school’s Hall of Fame. Williams joined coaching legend Marv Harshman and former teammate Steve Thompson, among others, on the wall of honor.

”He’s the best athlete that ever came out of this town – hands down,” Kennaugh said. ”And we’ve had some good athletes.

”He made himself into a fine athlete. I was under the impression, just watching him, that it wasn’t always natural for him. But he worked himself into a fine athlete.”

Perhaps the finest athlete in Lake Stevens history, and one of the 29 best Snohomish County has ever seen.

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