Note: The following appears in the Florida State gameday football program.
When Ray Williams was a starting wide receiver and kick returner for Clemson between 1983-86, he was one of the first Tigers in history to reach 1,000 career receiving yards and 1,000 career kickoff return yards.
Today, the number (1,000) is still meaningful to him, but in a far more important realm. It is Williams’ goal to recruit 1,000 people to register as organ donors.
Williams came to Clemson from Fayetteville, N.C. and became one of the top two-sport athletes in school history. On the gridiron under legendary Head Coach Danny Ford, Williams totaled 86 receptions for 1,290 yards and 10 touchdowns. As a returner, he set the school career record in just three seasons, gaining 1,353 yards on 66 kickoff returns.
He could have reached 2,000 kickoff return yards had he not suffered from a hip injury. Ford would not let Williams return kickoffs for fear of serious injury.
On the baseball diamond under another legendary head coach, Bill Wilhelm, Williams had 34 career home runs and 70 stolen bases. Today, he is still one of just two Tigers (Mike Couture is the other) to have 30+ homers and 70+ steals in a career.
Ironically, Williams is still sixth in Clemson history in kickoff return yards and sixth in stolen bases. Only former Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker (2008-10) reached such heights in those two sports.
In 2013, Williams was named to the Clemson Hall of Fame.
Whenever I asked Williams to come to the athletic department for a media interview in the 1980s, he came in a jacket and tie. Mature beyond his years, he knew it would give him a leg up when he was looking for a job. He was the only Tiger who did that until Chandler Catanzaro duplicated the attire in 2010. Catanzaro got the idea after I told the team about Williams at my annual address to the squad at the beginning of August practice.
Sure enough, after his playing career that included stints with the Cleveland Browns and Seattle Mariners organizations, Williams got a job with Allstate, and 24 years later, he is still working for that insurance company.
All was basically right with Williams’ world until the spring of 2016, when he began to have problems with his liver, a byproduct of what had already been a 10-year battle with diabetes.
“It was May 3, 2016, my wife’s birthday, and we went out to dinner,” recalled Williams. “I was so sick that I could not get out of the car.”
Instead of celebrating his wife’s birthday with his family, he was off to the hospital in Anderson. After multiple tests, doctors determined he was in bad shape.
“They basically told me they were going to send me home to ‘make me comfortable.’
“I told them, ‘I am a Clemson Tiger and I am not going anywhere’.”
Word got around that he was in bad shape. Ford came to see Williams for what he thought was the last time. Former Tiger running back Terrence Flagler came from Florida, and former running back Kenny Flowers came from Atlanta.
“I hadn’t seen Kenny Flowers since we played together,” said Williams.
Williams was really touched when former teammate Reid Ingle came to see him in the hospital in Anderson.
“Reid got there just as they were taking me for an operation, so I couldn’t visit with him. He waited the entire length of the operation and was in my room when I woke up.”
We see a lot of examples today of the Clemson Family under Head Coach Dabo Swinney, but there have been strong examples of the Clemson Family for many years, especially the teammates who played for Ford. Williams’ story is a testimony to that.
As a last-ditch effort, Williams’ wife made some calls through his insurance company, and they airlifted him to Emory Hospital in Atlanta in mid May.
“They drained six liters of fluid from my stomach and met for an evaluation.”
A team of five doctors met to determine the next course of action. They voted 3-2 in favor of putting him on the liver transplant list.
“It was a miracle,” said an emotional Williams as he told me this story over lunch in August. “In 36 hours, I had a donor. It was a miracle.”
On May 23, 2016, his sister’s (Rachel) birthday, he had the transplant.
The rehabilitation was grueling. He was out of work for over a year, but Allstate stuck by him.
“They were loyal to me the entire time. I got a check every month.”
Later that summer, he had to have his right leg amputated.
“Looking down and seeing your foot is not there is very depressing.”
That would be the case for anyone, but especially for a person who was such a gifted athlete in his youth.
But Williams fought threw the depression and did his rehabilitation thanks to the motivation provided by his family.
“I would not have gotten through this without my family. I can’t tell you how much the support meant to me. Seeing my grandchildren was a great motivator.”
Now, Williams is motivated to help others.
“I met with my pastor (in Easley) and asked him, ‘Why am I still here?’
“I prayed about it a lot with my pastor. ‘Why was I chosen? Why did I get a donor in 36 hours when so many have to wait so long or it becomes too late?’
“I reached a conclusion that I am blessed and I want to do something with this blessing of life. That meeting gave me the idea to return the gift of life.”
So, it is now Williams’ mission to recruit people to become donors.
“I want to make a difference and give back this gift of life I have received.”
And so it is now his mission to “recruit” 1,000 people to become registered donors.
“One donor can save up to eight lives. That would be 8,000 saved lives.”
Go to RegisterMe.org/RayWilliams to register as a donor and help Williams make a difference in the lives of those in need.