University of Miami

Lester Williams, football pioneer of the Miami Hurricanes, dies at 58

Former Carol City and University of Miami star Lester Williams chases down then-Miami Dolphins rookie quarterback Dan Marino on Nov. 14, 1983.
Former Carol City and University of Miami star Lester Williams chases down then-Miami Dolphins rookie quarterback Dan Marino on Nov. 14, 1983. AP

Lester Williams wasn’t on the field playing for the Miami Hurricanes when they won their first national championship at the 1984 Orange Bowl Classic.

Yet Williams was one of the players who started Miami’s ascension into a national power.

On Wednesday, the former All-American from Carol City High School died at his home in Birmingham, Alabama.

Lester Williams was 58.

“Everyone talks about Alonzo Highsmith and Melvin Bratton and the Class of ‘83, but it was Lester who started the trend of Miami keeping its local kids,” said John Routh, the executive director of the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame of which Williams was inducted in 1999.

“He was a big name, a big talent and Miami was able to start getting some local guys to stay home. It really got the ball rolling.”

As a highly-recruited defensive lineman out of Carol City in 1978, Williams could have gone anywhere he wanted.

After all, Williams’ teams went 26-2 in his junior and senior seasons, the unbeaten Chiefs winning a state title in 1977.

The prep All-American stayed home, signing with Lou Saban and the Hurricanes.

Saban, who left Coral Gables following the 1978 season, called signing Williams “the salvation” for a struggling program which was almost abolished.

“That was the biggest coup the University of Miami had made in some time,” Howard Schnellenberger told the UM Sports Hall of Fame before Williams was inducted in 1999.

“He was going to lead other local players to come to Miami. That signing was really big.”

Williams was a huge part of Schnellenberger’s first team in 1979 which went to Penn State, and with Jim Kelly at quarterback, upset the Nittany Lions.

“I said after that game that UM football never would be the same,” Schnellenberger said in 1989. “And it hasn’t been.”

In 1980, Miami went 9-3 and won the Peach Bowl which helped the Hurricanes get things going at least locally if not nationally.

Williams, who still holds the UM mark for most solo tackles by a defensive tackle with 210, had 76 tackles and five sacks as a senior in 1981. In one game against Houston, Williams made 17 tackles and had three sacks.

Named a Parade All-American, numerous publications named Williams the 1981 lineman of the year. Williams was also given those honors on the prep level during his senior season at Carol City.

“If you went to school at Miami and you didn’t know [Williams], there was something wrong with you,” former UM and Dolphins linebacker Jay Brophy told the Boston Globe in 1985.

“Lester is big down here.’’

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This 1982 photo, provided by NFL Photos, shows New England Patriots defensive tackle Lester Williams. NFL AP

In 1982, the Patriots selected Williams in the first round of the NFL Draft. Williams played in 40 games for the Patriots and started Super Bowl 20 in what would be his final game with the Patriots in 1986.

In his first trip back to the Orange Bowl as a member of the Patriots in 1983, Williams bought more than 60 tickets for friends and family members. They had a post-game tailgate outside the stadium.

“Thank God we only play in Miami once a year,” he said. “I couldn't afford to do it twice.”

George Richards: 305-376-4995, @GeorgeRichards

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