TAMPA — Tampa Bay Storm receiver Chandler Williams died Saturday while playing in a flag football tournament in South Florida. He was 27.
Williams died of natural causes, Miami TV station WPLG reported, but the Arena Football League did not release a cause of death.
"I spoke to him just the other day and we talked about him coming back and us working out together," said Storm receiver Amarri Jackson, who roomed with Williams in Tampa and on road trips. "We ended the conversation the same way we always do — 'I love you and stay safe.' "
"We are shocked and saddened," Storm president Derrick Brooks said.
Williams was a standout for the Storm in his first season. The former Florida International player caught 83 passes for 996 yards and 17 touchdowns and led the league in kickoff return average at 23 yards per game. He also took three kickoffs back for scores before signing with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League in June.
"He was the best football player on this team, period," coach Dave Ewart said last year after Williams' departure.
Despite being a rookie, Ewart said Williams "became a team leader."
"He was even sending emails out to the guys this offseason to keep everyone motivated," Ewart said. "The guy just did everything right. Everything."
The Minnesota Vikings picked Williams in the seventh round of the 2007 NFL draft, making him the second FIU player selected. He also spent time with Miami, Kansas City and Atlanta but never appeared in a regular-season NFL game.
Williams ranks second all time at FIU for receptions in a career (203) and in a game (11), trailing current Colts rookie receiver T.Y. Hilton in both categories.
Williams is survived by fiancee Vanitia Harrigan and daughter Tori Williams.
"He was a great friend, a great husband-to-be and a great dad," Jackson said. "This just doesn't feel real. It's going to be a tough one to let go."