BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Mike Williams, a multi-sport star for Buffalo’s Riverside High School who played collegiately for Syracuse University and spent five years in the NFL, died Tuesday in Tampa, Florida. He was 36.
Contemporaries and competitors remembered Williams for his bright smile and his athletic brilliance. The NFL teams Williams played for in Buffalo and Tampa, and the Syracuse Orange posted tributes on social media.
Here is a collection of the remembrances:
Domonic Cook, former University at Buffalo and St. Joe’s football player, matched up against Williams when UB played Syracuse at the dome in 2017, AAU basketball teammate of Williams.
“To me, Mike is the greatest athlete in Buffalo history. I’ve said that to him. 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.”
“It was weird because we never played against each other in football in high school. And me coming from linebacker, I was still horrible at corner. He was already a big-time player. Mike and Naaman Roosevelt are the two best receivers I ever had to cover. And that includes Jeremy Maclin, Antonio Brown, guys I covered in college.”
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Naaman Roosevelt, 2006 Connolly Cup winner from St. Joe’s, all-time leading receiver at UB, played against Williams in basketball in high school.
“A Buffalo legend for sure. 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. He is one of the few I can remember making out of a Buffalo school in our era.”
Roosevelt and Williams were both NFL rookies in 2010, the first of two regular seasons Roosevelt spent with the Bills.
“It was unreal to see what he was doing. Instantly blow up. You always knew how athletic he was. And all he needed was the opportunity. He got it down in Tampa, and it was special to see him be one of the top receivers in the league right away.”
Roosevelt was on the Bills’ practice squad for part of 2014 season when Williams played for the Bills. After five NFL seasons, went on to play seven years in CFL, and is now an assistant coach with Saskatchewan.
“Mike always talked about how cool he thought it was that I played at UB and then for the Bills, all those years at home in the city. We always kept in touch, and it was fun to watch his amazing journey come back to Buffalo. When we were getting recruited in high school, we talked about playing together. He wanted me to go to Syracuse. It’s crazy how that turned out with the Bills.”
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Jason Rowe, one of Buffalo’s all-time great basketball players for Traditional, now coaching Bishop Timon-St. Jude. Williams played in pro-am basketball leagues Rowe sponsored during his 15-year career as an overseas professional.
“Mike was a dear friend to many of us. His infectious energy and smile will be missed. He’s by far one of the best athletes I’ve ever competed against. My deepest condolences to his family and friends.”
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Tony Truilizio, Williams’ football coach at Riverside High School.
“He was just one of the hardest working kids I knew. In terms of his athleticism, he was the best student-athlete I’ve ever coached. … I’m devastated, I can’t lie to you. I’m sick to my stomach.”
Truilizio said his favorite memory of Williams came during a game against Hutch Tech in his junior year of high school. Williams returned the second-half kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown.
“It was just amazing to see,” Truilizio said.
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Bill Russell, longtime Riverside basketball and football assistant, on Williams’ performance for Riverside in a 2005 game against Niagara Falls basketball team that went on to win state championship and finish season ranked No. 2 in the country.
“Mike was an incredible standout in both sports. The only reason we were able to do anything against that Niagara Falls team that really nobody could stop, was because Mike could truly match up with Paul Harris, who at that time was one of the top recruits in the country.
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Mike MacDonald, basketball coach at Canisius College during Williams’ high school career, now coaching Daemen University
“The last time I saw him as at Daemen, he would always come up and give me a big smile and thank him for believing in him back in the day. We offered him his first Division I scholarship.
“I always thought the coolest thing was when he was back playing in basketball leagues in the summer when he was in NFL, he was always competitive. He was very athletic. I think he could’ve been a mid-major basketball player, and defensively too he was really good.”
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Bruce Warrick, a friend from Buffalo who would play basketball with Williams and attend his games at Riverside, called him an inspiration.
“Coming out of Buffalo, we barely get recognition. He put the city on the map, that listen, you can make it anywhere,” Warrick said.
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Doug Marrone, Williams’ head coach with both Syracuse and the Buffalo Bills
“It is so sad to hear about the tragic passing of Mike Williams and my thoughts and prayers go out to Mike’s family. I enjoyed having Mike as a member of my teams at Syracuse University and with the Buffalo Bills and I know his teammates enjoyed playing with him also. Mike was an immensely talented and extremely productive receiver in both college and the NFL, who continually worked hard at his craft.”
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers
“We are saddened to hear of the untimely death of Mike Williams, which has left our organization, his former teammates and fans with heavy hearts. We send our deepest sympathies to his family and loved ones as they mourn this tragedy.
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“We are saddened to learn that former Bills Wide Receiver Mike Williams has passed away.
“Our deepest condolences are with his friends and family.”
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“We’re saddened to learn of the tragic passing of former Syracuse student-athlete Mike Williams. We extend our deepest sympathies to Mike’s family, friends and everyone in the Syracuse football family who knew Mike.”
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.