Rod Williams liked making people laugh. One of his go-to ways was to imitate the football coaches.
His coach Eric Parker act, though? That was the best.
That’s what Burke County High School football teammate Quan Wilson will remember about his friend Williams, who died Monday night.
“He just kept a smile on his face — no bad feelings around him,” Wilson said. “He loved to imitate the coaches. Coach Parker’s the best one I’ve heard. He had the way he talked, the way coach Parker walked. He knew it all.”
Williams, a 17-year-old junior offensive lineman listed at 5-11, 300 pounds, died almost two weeks after he collapsed during practice.
Williams is the third high school player to die from football-related issues in the last two weeks. Kenny Bui, a senior at Evergreen High School in Washington died Monday following injuries sustained in a game Friday. Evan Murray, a quarterback for Warren Hills High School in New Jersey, died following an injury sustained in his team's game the previous day.
On Tuesday morning, the school held a vigil at the flagpole to remember Williams. Grief counselors were also at the school.
Parker said Williams collapsed about six or seven minutes into a Sept. 22 practice. Medical staffers did CPR.
Williams was treated at Children’s Hospital of Georgia, according to hospital spokeswoman Denise Parrish. The hospital performed an autopsy but the results were not yet available, said Burke County Coroner Susan Salemi.
“It’s probably going to be a heart condition,” Salemi said.
“We were initially told he had some drastic sudden event with his heart,” Parker said. “We were hoping and praying he would come back; it just wasn’t meant to be.”
Parker said that after Monday’s practice, he heard that Williams had taken a “turn for the worst.”
On Tuesday morning, the team got together and made a pact to get through the ordeal together, Parker said. Bears players have already posted remembrance statuses on Facebook for Williams, who wore No. 71, with Stephen Dishmond saying, “#rest easy rod #71.” Bo Goodin asking for prayers: “Everybody say a prayer for big rod’s family! He knew how to make you laugh! Everybody stay strong! We gotta do this for Rod Williams!! #longlive71.”
On the field, Burke County is coming off an emotional 26-20 win Friday against previously unbeaten Thomson. Now the Bears will try to win for their teammate.
“Stuff like this puts things in perspective,” Parker said. “We’re going to try to keep things as normal as possible. I think as time moves on, we’ll be fine. What I’m not certain about is right this moment.”
“He was a great kid and a good student. He was kind of the team clown – just real popular.”
Funeral arrangements are set for 1 p.m. Saturday at Burke County High School’s J.D. Smith Auditorium.
Wilson said he and his teammates are dedicating the season to Williams. They play at Liberty County Friday.
“We’ve just been encouraging each other to keep our heads up and stay strong, because that’s what he would want us to do,” Wilson said.
Related: Read and sign the online guestbook for Rod Williams. Funeral will be 1 p.m. Saturday Oct. 10, 2015 at Burke County High School.