University of Hawaii running back Willis Wilson died Saturday morning in an apparent drowning off Sandy Beach. He was 21.
According to a Honolulu Fire Department report, Wilson was among a group of three men and two women who were wading in shallow water early Saturday morning. At about 4:30 a.m., they noticed that Wilson was not with them.
HFD and Coast Guard rescuers were summoned. A couple of hours later, Wilson’s body was recovered.
Wilson was a walk-on running back at the University of Washington for three years before transferring to UH this past summer.
He was a backup for Hawaii and was on the Rainbow Warriors’ travel roster for the first three games. On Monday, Wilson rushed nine times for 115 yards and two touchdowns in an intra-squad scrimmage on the Manoa campus.
In discussing his role for next year, Wilson said: "You can never predict the future. I take it one day at a time. I love it here."
Gov. Neil Abercrombie and U.S. Rep Tulsi Gabbard issued statements on the drowning this evening.
"The thoughts of the people of Hawaii, as no doubt of every fan in Aloha Stadium tonight, are with the Wilson family," Abercrombie said. "It is especially tragic when the life of one so young and with so much potential is ended so abruptly.
"Willis had returned home to Hawaii to contribute as a Rainbow Warrior and build his future as part of our university ohana. We extend our deepest Aloha to his family, friends and teammates, and we wish them some of his strength in the days ahead."
Gabbard said: "I was deeply saddened to learn the devastating news that Willis Wilson, one of the Warriors’ running backs, had drowned earlier this morning. I can’t imagine the shock, pain, and sadness that his family, his team, and the UH ohana is feeling right now, but I pray the Wilsons and his extended family can find some peace and strength through this difficult time."
Wilson, a walk-on who transferred from the University of Washington, did not appear in any games this season.
In a statement issued by the UH Athletics Department, head football coach Norm Chow said, "We are very saddened by the news of Willis’ passing. He was a very fun-loving young man, who was well-liked by his teammates."
"He overcame some obstacles in his life and he was the perfect lesson to our team to never quit. Our thoughts and prayers are with Willis’ family during this difficult time," Chow said.
Born Jack Willis Wilson III in Pearl City, he spent three years at UW, where he redshirted in 2010 and received the team’s Brian Stapp Special Teams Scout Player of the Year award. He did not appear in any games in 2011 and saw limited action in four games as a sophomore.
Wilson, along with UH cornerback Dee Maggitt, was a graduate of Lakes High School in Lakewood, Wash. Wilson was an all-state running back and the South Puget Sound League’s offensive player of the year as a senior after rushing for 1,425 yards and 22 touchdowns in leading Lakes to the 3A state semifinals.
Wilson’s father, Jack Wilson, Jr., played for UH in the late 1980s.
Wilson was not among the 64 players who spent last night in a Waikiki hotel ahead of today’s game against Army. The players not on the hotel list join the rest of the team at Aloha Stadium.