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UH football player apparently drowns at Sandy Beach

By Stephen Tsai & Michael Tsai

LAST UPDATED: 08:57 a.m. HST, Dec 01, 2013

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.

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Papakolea wrote:
Deepest condolences to his family, friends and team mates.
on November 30,2013 | 08:54AM
ricekidd wrote:
So sad....but what was he doing at sandys at 4am?? If I had a game the next day i wont be out at 4am.....
on November 30,2013 | 09:03AM
OldDiver wrote:
This is a red flag. This indicates Chow is treating the players who dress for the game differently than the rest. This is not team.
on November 30,2013 | 11:24AM
Actually, I would call it being able to afford to these things for those that do not make the travel team.
on November 30,2013 | 12:47PM
Bdpapa wrote:
A lot of schools have this situation. Unfortunately this ended tragically. Can't babysit those not at the hotel. My condolences to the family
on November 30,2013 | 03:19PM
walaau808 wrote:
What an ignorant and insensitive comment
on November 30,2013 | 05:48PM
false wrote:
Don't need your dumb comments here.
on November 30,2013 | 08:20PM
honopic wrote:
A 21-year-old man is dead, the Rainbow Warriors have lost a teammate, and all you can do is grumble about Coach Chow? Where's your aloha? Get a heart.
on December 1,2013 | 04:06AM
inverse wrote:
It is the PATTERN of problem under Chow. Ricekidd makes a valid point. What was Wilson doing at Sandy beach at 4:30am , the morning of that UH was to play Army? Was he drinking? Also what about last season where at least three UH players were arrested for drinking and driving, before and during the start of football season? This not about lack of "Aloha", there is something really WRONG going with the UH football team and this looks like a pattern of UH players CRYING FOR HELP and completely LOST and obviously have ZERO focus in playing football at UH.
on December 1,2013 | 07:21AM
localguy wrote:
Sandy Beach is deceiving in appearance. Looks like a safe beach to enjoy, lifeguards will tell you otherwise. More neck injuries at Sandy then any other beach on the islands. The sharp drop off causes dangerous wave conditions and more. http://oceansafety.ancl.hawaii.edu/v/2.0/?i=oahu&shid=4&bch=sandy Condolences to the family and team.
on November 30,2013 | 09:07AM
false wrote:
on November 30,2013 | 10:26AM
allie wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on November 30,2013 | 10:51AM
mokebla wrote:
No you don't get it allie, sandys not a place to wad in the water at 4am. My deepest condolences to the Wilson family.
on November 30,2013 | 12:19PM
uhsportsfan wrote:
This type of response was not necessary.
on November 30,2013 | 01:08PM
honopic wrote:
You don't get it, allie. And as all your posts clearly show, you never will. Please spare us your lame comments. Better yet, go back to ND..
on December 1,2013 | 04:12AM
Nevadan wrote:
Mahalo false. I was caught in a similar situation. I floated on my back, avoiding the under currents, and back-stroked to the shore.
on November 30,2013 | 11:59AM
HD36 wrote:
Wow , the exact sae thing happened to me. I was 14 yrs old and yelled for help at the top of my lungs. Thank you bradah.
on November 30,2013 | 02:53PM
bullturd wrote:
Now comes the "we should've" had Willis at the hotel with us because he was on our team, and this wouldn't have happened. Very very sad indeed for his family, friends, and the UH Football team Family. 'Aloha Ke Akua'.
on November 30,2013 | 09:11AM
kailua000 wrote:
walk on, non scholarship players not on the roster do not get the same benefits as the others. always been like that. but they should still have some type of supervision. I'd like to think maybe he was out running on the beach for exercise that early in the morning or just going to watch the sunrise. who knows. were the others there players from UH? the TV news almost made it sound as if the others didnt know him
on November 30,2013 | 12:56PM
Bdpapa wrote:
You can't monitor these people. Seems to be just poor judgement, nothing else.
on November 30,2013 | 03:21PM
ski3779 wrote:
This just shows people, Chow does not have control of his team. He has to go. What College Athlete is out at 4 in the morning, the day of the game, cruising with friends. No matter if he is not going to play. He should not have been out there, the day of a game. Makes you wonder who else, on the team, was out cruising the town, or beach, at that early a morning.
on November 30,2013 | 09:16AM
Pailonaono wrote:
I no kid u. Good observation ski.
on November 30,2013 | 10:33AM
marcdixon24 wrote:
Are you kidding me? First of all, RIP to this young man and condolences to the family. Secondly, you're tying this to Chow? There are lots of things that Chow needs to answer for, but this is NOT one of them. Div 1 FB coaches have over 100 players in their programs. They can't be expected to account for every single one of them every minute of every day. Especially a non-active player not expected to play in the upcoming game. In addition, the deceased was 20-years-old. Not a child. A man. A man that made his own decisions and unfortunately suffered the grave consequence. Les Miles and Nick Saban have also had players doing things in the still of the night that were questionable. Are those guys not in control of their programs? There's lots of evidence that Chow is over his head on the field. Don't tie this tragedy to him. Chow doesn't deserve that kind of guilt on his conscience.
on November 30,2013 | 11:05AM
Kaimiloa wrote:
Shame on you. You spit on this young man's family just to make a dig at his coach.
on November 30,2013 | 05:08PM
Wazdat wrote:
Sad news. Wonder how you can drown when the waves are pretty much flat at sandy's today?
on November 30,2013 | 09:45AM
Pailonaono wrote:
on November 30,2013 | 10:33AM
RetiredWorking wrote:
Maybe Wilson couldn't swim well, either. So sad. My condolences to the family.
on November 30,2013 | 11:03AM
bullturd wrote:
I guess you had to be there at that time. 430 am is still very dark to go wading or swimming at Sandy's. Very-very sad outcome.
on November 30,2013 | 11:06AM
TMJ wrote:
There's always danger in the black water; especially at Sandy's. Sandy's can be dangerous when it's small & sunny.
on November 30,2013 | 01:52PM
hunebasami wrote:
to bad. now Chow can use him as a excuse.
on November 30,2013 | 10:00AM
malaroots wrote:
Lame comment
on November 30,2013 | 10:25AM
Nevadan wrote:
on November 30,2013 | 11:51AM
Poipounder808 wrote:
What a rectum you are hunebasami.
on November 30,2013 | 12:33PM
FrankieT wrote:
You are a joke, you should be banned from making anymore comments
on November 30,2013 | 02:35PM
808warriorfan wrote:
on November 30,2013 | 09:42PM
Sandybeach wrote:
Totally uncalled for.
on November 30,2013 | 03:28PM
Kaimiloa wrote:
You are a shame on your family.
on November 30,2013 | 05:09PM
808warriorfan wrote:
With comments like that maybe his family has already "disowned" him/her
on November 30,2013 | 09:43PM
Compassionate_Cat wrote:
We need to post signs about the danger at Sandy Beach especially at this time of year. So glad he was very happy here and was with friends. God rest his beautiful soul and somehow comfort his family and friends at this difficult time.
on November 30,2013 | 10:02AM
livinginhawaii wrote:
Signs do absolutely no good at 4:30 in the morning. We have way too many signs ruining the aina. The last thing we need are more signs...
on November 30,2013 | 10:57AM
jimmyhouse67 wrote:
You people, hunebasami, ski3779 and wazdat are three of the most small-minded anonymous (because you don't have the cajones to post your real identities) posters on this website. Someone died and you blame the coach. You have no clue about college athletics and the coach cannot control players 24-7. Wazdat, even if Sandy's is flat it's still dangerous for novice swimmer. People drown at Ala Moana park also, explain that. You all need to gain some perspective on life before it's too late. Maybe it is too late already for the small-minded.
on November 30,2013 | 10:16AM
kk808 wrote:
on November 30,2013 | 10:46AM
OldDiver wrote:
Sandy's is dangerous for anyone at 4:30 am.
on November 30,2013 | 11:11AM
sak wrote:
And not just in the water, many Punks out at that hour looking for trouble while drinking and partying.
on November 30,2013 | 04:24PM
Kalaheo1 wrote:
Sandy's is dangerous any time of the day or night.
on November 30,2013 | 05:23PM
justchecking wrote:
Sandy's is dangerous no matter what time it is
on November 30,2013 | 07:13PM
nitpikker wrote:
i agree with you on the other 2, but you are kind of harsh with "wazdat". he was just "wondering", maybe he doesn't know the local beaches.
on November 30,2013 | 10:57AM
Nevadan wrote:
hunebasami needs to be forgiven. She is mentally incapacitated.
on November 30,2013 | 03:30PM
Anonymous wrote:
I agree. They are all small-minded idiots.
on November 30,2013 | 10:57AM
HanabataDays wrote:
"anonymous (because you don't have the cajones to post your real identities)" -- as compared with "Jimmy", who evidently lives in a house..?
on December 2,2013 | 03:55AM
Manoa2 wrote:
This tragedy is reminiscent of the Von Appen years when the team was struggling to win games and a player drowned trying to save Von Appen's son. Two teams with bad luck all around.
on November 30,2013 | 11:43AM
kailua000 wrote:
Yea, almost forgot about that.
on November 30,2013 | 12:58PM
Kaimiloa wrote:
This has nothing to do with football or win-loss record.
on November 30,2013 | 05:11PM
808warriorfan wrote:
I believe his name was Shannon Smith and the locker room was named after him. With the renovation of the locker room I hope they still kept the name in his memory.....
on November 30,2013 | 09:44PM
primowarrior wrote:
Condolences to his family. Way too young to die. I hope the team dedicates tonight's game to his memory.
on November 30,2013 | 12:34PM
pizza wrote:
Nice decision Coach Chow- if he was on the hotel list he wouldn't have been at Sandy's, and alive today... uggggh
on November 30,2013 | 12:37PM
Squiggs wrote:
blame, blame, blame, I am Pizzq brain
on November 30,2013 | 01:30PM
Rhi64 wrote:
Lame comment.
on November 30,2013 | 02:10PM
oldertimer808 wrote:
pizza that is the most ridiculous and insensitive comment. You get yourself a life tune up.
on November 30,2013 | 03:30PM
Kaimiloa wrote:
Get a life.
on November 30,2013 | 05:12PM
Squiggs wrote:
Go away
on November 30,2013 | 01:28PM
sahara11 wrote:
Let's just honor his life. It is a tragedy. My sympathies to the family and his friends and teammates
on November 30,2013 | 02:09PM
roughrider wrote:
Rest in peace, Willis. From all accounts you were a nice, talented you man waiting your turn. To those who just don't get it, this person said it best on Stephen Tsai's blog: I ALL NUHA ALREADY: November 30th, 2013 at 1:54 pm Why? Why am I not surprised at some of the insensitive non-sense that sometimes gets written? A decent young man loses his life doing what kids do, nothing wrong mind you, just being a kid, thatʻs it. Others then rain on the sadness by asking some stupid questions. Why wasnʻt he at the hotel? Why was he at the beach at such an hour? I mean, really? Hereʻs a few answers for the ignorant, insensitive, few. He wasnʻt on the hotel roster. Not every player is invited, mostly those who are expected to play dress out are taken to the team hotel on Friday night. About the beach in the early morning on a game day, well, the young man wasnʻt one of the players expected to dress out tonight against Army. So why not just be young? Why? Why is it there was always has to be fault and / or blame? Rest in peace young man, blessing to your family and friends.
on November 30,2013 | 02:10PM
oldertimer808 wrote:
You people stop speculating and saying unneccessary things when a young man has just lost his life. My deep felt condolences to the Wilson family and also to the coaching staff and student/thletes whose hearts are heavy with the loss of their friend.
on November 30,2013 | 03:26PM
Sandybeach wrote:
I am sadden by this young mans passing. I live near Sandy Beach and heard all the sirens this morning. When I hear sirens in my neighborhood I always pray. So tragic and unfortunate. May Mr. Willis Wilson rest in peace. I swim and body surf at Sandy's but I have been doing it for over 50 yrs. I only go in when I am confident that I can handle it and life guards must be present. Rarely, I mean rarely do I go in any more. Seen a lot of spinal cord injuries and had a few close calls myself. One case I remember in 1974 a young main from the mainland injured his spinal cord (neck) at Sandy's. Passed away three days later at Castle Memorial. I was at the hospital at the time on an unrelated matter. I met this young mans family. Devastating... I never forget it. Please be safe. Willis Wilson is in my prayers.
on November 30,2013 | 03:27PM
PaloloValley wrote:
Whoever wrote this article really suck at their job.
on November 30,2013 | 03:50PM
walaau808 wrote:
You should be happy nobody comes to your job to criticize you...
on November 30,2013 | 05:54PM
syhud wrote:
To late but just have to remember the person/player he was. To young to know his limitations in the local beaches. Worst part is they went in the water in almost total darkness. Bad idea!
on November 30,2013 | 05:35PM
GorillaSmith wrote:
This is neither the time nor the place for taking pot shots at either Chow or the victim. RIP, Willis and condolences to the Wilson family.
on November 30,2013 | 05:39PM
AKIRE808 wrote:
UH football has always treated their 3rd string players as nobodys. If there is no budget for ALL to stay in the hotel then they should not be staying at a hotel. I thought they were in the red. What is the purpose to stay at the hotel? Condolences to the Wilson family
on November 30,2013 | 06:12PM
Publicbraddah wrote:
Lots of people going off in different tangents. A young man needlessly died. Have some sensitivity and express your condolences to his family. They're going thru their worse nightmare.
on November 30,2013 | 07:48PM
808warriorfan wrote:
RIP RAINBOW WARRIOR.....I only wish your teammates who played tonight could have honored you better. Yes they won but 5 Personal Fouls, very selfish type penalties, was not the way they should have gone about it. You deserved better.....Aloha #20
on November 30,2013 | 09:42PM
inverse wrote:
I hope the medical examiner does an autopsy with a toxicology report to check if he had high levels of alcohol or other drugs in his system. Would be very careful to not just discount this as an accident and wonder about the people he was with. As someone else mentioned, Sandys did not appear to be breaking heavy and the medical examiner needs to rule out foul play as the story given by his "friends' need to be scrutinized big time. Five people, including Wilson is not a big "group" and how can he just "disappear" when just walking along the waters edge in apparently calm waters?
on December 1,2013 | 07:33AM
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