BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Mike Williams, revered in this city for his football and basketball brilliance at Riverside High School, scholarship success at Syracuse University, and a five-year NFL playing career that culminated with his hometown Buffalo Bills, has died. He was 36.
Family members said Williams died just before 9 a.m. Tuesday in Tampa, Florida. He was hospitalized earlier this month and put on life support following complications from a workplace accident in August. Williams was able to breathe on his own after being taken off a ventilator Sept. 7, but was said to be unresponsive.
Williams is survived by his son, Mike Jr., 10, and daughter, Mya, 8. He had been accompanied by family in the hospital, including his mother Mary Rosenthal and brother Eric Baylor.
“A Buffalo legend,” said Naaman Roosevelt, a high school rival of Williams’ who went on to become University at Buffalo’s all-time leading receiver.
Williams starred in football and basketball for Riverside, making the All-Western New York team in both sports. He was an all-conference selection in football at Syracuse and also had a brief stint on the Orange basketball team. He was selected in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft and played four seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before getting traded to the Bills in 2014. He last appeared on an NFL roster with the Chiefs during training camp in 2016, and had been living in Florida prior to the accident.
“Mike is the greatest athlete in Buffalo history,” said Domonic Cook, who played AAU basketball with Williams, and matched up against him on the football field when UB visited Syracuse in 2017. “I’ve said that to him, and I’ll continue to say it to this day. He could literally do it all. So much raw talent. He didn’t even have to train. It was just natural. My biggest wish is to have seen him really play basketball at Syracuse. There will never be another like Mike Williams from this area.”
Williams boasts the second-best career receiving yardage (3,089) among NFL players born in Western New York, behind Rob Gronkowski (Amherst), the 42nd overall pick in Williams’ draft class. Williams made the NFL’s all-rookie team in 2010, catching 65 passes for 964 yards and 11 touchdowns after the Buccaneers drafted him 101st overall, the highest selection of any player from Buffalo Public Schools.
“What he did coming out of Riverside, a City of Buffalo school, doing the amazing things he did, that was something extra special to see,” said Roosevelt, who played five NFL seasons, and was a teammate of Williams’ as a member of the Bills practice squad in 2014. “He is one of the few I can remember making it out of a Buffalo school in our era.”
As a high school senior in 2005, Williams had 970 yards receiving and scored 15 touchdowns, earning Harvard Cup offensive player of the year and first-team Class AA All-State accolades. He was rated the No. 10 recruiting prospect in New York by Rivals.com before committing to Syracuse, and became the first Harvard Cup player in a dozen seasons to receive a Division I-A scholarship.
On the basketball court, Williams scored 1,468 points for Riverside teams that went undefeated in Yale Cup play for two full seasons. In Williams’ junior year, the Frontiersmen became the first school in 21 years to win Harvard Cup and Yale Cup titles in this same season. He averaged 26.3 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5 steals as a senior. During his sophomore year of college, Williams walked on the basketball team at Syracuse and appeared in four games, scoring seven points.
Reports that Williams had died circulated in local and national media last week, but friends of Williams and his family told WIVB that those reports were false.
Williams’ on-the-job accident last month was not immediately thought to be life-threatening. Rosenthal told WIVB that Williams was doing electrical work when someone above him dropped a steel beam that struck Williams in the head. He thought he had walked away from the incident with just a headache, but his symptoms worsened that week.
Rosenthal said Williams was initially turned away from the hospital because they thought he only had a concussion, but was admitted days later when he began to lose feeling in his legs. He also developed a staph infection that contributed to his situation, Rosenthal said, adding that he underwent a surgery on his spinal cord while in the hospital.
Jonah Bronstein joined the WIVB squad in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. The Buffalonian has covered the Bills, Sabres, Bandits, Bisons, colleges, high schools and other notable sporting events in Western New York since 2005, for publications including The Associated Press, The Buffalo News, and Niagara Gazette. Read more of his work here.
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Nick Veronica is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as the Digital Executive Producer in 2021. He previously worked at NBC Sports and The Buffalo News. You can follow Nick on Facebook, Twitter and Threads. See more of his work here.