Former OSU Star Williams back on field for Jets after life-threatening disease

Friday, July 14th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) -- Ten months ago, Kevin Williams was on his deathbed, his lungs and throat attacked by a mysterious bacteria. On Friday, he was making interceptions for the New York Jets.

As Williams walked off the practice field, Bill Parcells called him over and offered some encouragement. Williams nodded, then smiled as he walked away.

"It's hard to explain," Williams said after picking off two passes as the Jets opened training camp with a brisk workout. "It feels like a blessing to be out there again. Bill just welcomed me back and said he had faith in me."

Williams' faith and health were severely shaken last October. The former Oklahoma State player became sick before a game in Denver and his conditioned worsened rapidly. He was hospitalized and placed on a respirator. He was heavily sedated. Three times, surgery was performed to clear fluid from his throat and from around his lungs.

Several teammates feared for Williams' life. The team was criticized by Williams' agent, Jerome Stanley, for its callous handling of the situation. Parcells, then the Jets' coach and now their director of football operations, claimed he was following doctor's orders by not allowing his players to contact Williams until Williams was out of danger.

"Bill was doing his job," Williams said Friday. "I'm not mad at him or at anything. I'm happy to have my life. All of that happened when I wasn't aware of it. When I first came to, football was not a priority. I had to get my life straight."

Williams was placed on the reserve, non-football injury list, but not until three weeks after he fell ill. That way, he was given credit for an accrued season because he was on the active list for six games. By doing so, the Jets allowed Williams the opportunity to become a restricted free agent after this season.

By the way he performed in the team's first practice of 2000, Williams looks like a keeper. He has moved to free safety after playing mostly cornerback, and is competing with veteran Omar Stoutmire for the starting slot.

"It was great to see him out there," cornerback Marcus Coleman said. "Kevin and I are pretty close, and it's good to see him at full strength and back into the flow of things."

At 194 pounds, Williams is about five pounds over his previous playing weight and, he said, it's "all muscle."

"The weight came off because I was not eating for three weeks," Williams said. "In the hospital, they do all that for you, because you're just laying there and you're not getting all the calories ... or the chance to burn it off."

The Jets have a deep, experienced secondary, but the one uncertain spot is at free safety. Steve Atwater was released after an injury-plagued 1999 -- his only season with the Jets. Stoutmire played well replacing Atwater. Now Williams, 24, is in the mix.

"They'll play the person who proves he is the best," Williams said. "I'm back, and there are no questions at all in my mind. I have a greater appreciation for life itself. Tomorrow is not promised to anyone, but I've been in that position and didn't know f I would make it back. That gives you a greater appreciation."