Zaire Williams was described by those who coached and played football with him as an upbeat person, somebody always trying to make others smile.
Players and coaches from both Temple and South Jersey’s Timber Creek High, where he starred as a senior, were among those to speak in his memory after the 25-year-old was killed in a shooting in the early hours of Monday morning in Philadelphia.
- Temple football notes: Local product chooses the Owls; non-league schedule set through 2023, All-Star participants
- Temple football players give back as they mentor Camden youngsters during spring semester
- Temple to extend contract with Eagles to play at least five more years of home football games at Linc
The Associated Press reported that Williams was shot and killed in the 1800 block of West Montgomery Avenue following a fistfight, according to authorities. The shooter fled the scene and remained at large on Tuesday.
Williams transferred from Cherokee High to Timber Creek for his senior year and then accepted a scholarship to Temple. In the beginning of his third season at Temple, he transferred to the University of Maine.
“He was a very upbeat, passionate, a very positive person,” said Kareem Ali, who played with Williams at Timber Creek and Temple. “He could light up a room simply off his laugh or if he told a joke or something."
Ali, who graduated from Temple and played last fall at Western Michigan as a graduate transfer, said he kept up with Williams regularly. He described him as somebody everybody wanted to be around.
“He always wanted to make people smile and was so positive,” Ali said.
Since the news broke of Williams’s death, the former Temple players have been getting in touch with each other, sharing their sorrow.
“He was a really good kid, I am shocked, it is so devastating,” said former Temple assistant coach Ed Foley, now the assistant special teams coach for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers. “I know a lot of players have reached out to me to make sure I knew, and his impact was greatly felt. Everybody is just so devastated over this.”
A running back, Williams made an immediate impact as a freshman at Temple, rushing for 533 yards (5.3 yards per carry average) and three touchdowns as a freshman in 2013.
The next season, he appeared in just the opener against Vanderbilt, rushing for 17 yards on seven carries. He was sidelined the rest of the season with a back injury.
During the latter part of training camp in 2015, he was moved from running back to linebacker, because the Temple coaches felt he could receive more playing time there while also helping on special teams.
Williams left the team early in the 2015 season and eventually transferred to Maine, where he returned to running back.
In 2016, he rushed for 302 yards (4.0 yards per carry) and one touchdown for Maine.
“He was very outgoing, he was funny, and he loved helping other people out,” said former Temple all-conference safety Delvon Randall, who recently signed with the Ottawa Redblacks of the Canadian Football League. “I feel he went out of his way to help other people. This tragedy hurts in so many ways.”
Several football players posted tributes to Williams on social media. New Orleans Saints cornerback Eli Apple, a former star at Eastern High and Ohio State, had this post.
Former Temple quarterback PJ Walker, who has been the sensation of the XFL with the Houston Roughnecks, added these comments.
“This is so tragic and my thoughts go to his family,” Timber Creek football coach Rob Hinson said.
Hinson said that Williams had stayed in good shape.
“He was working out, training guys, and looking to find his way,” Hinson said. “The football bug wasn’t completely out of him.”
For Timber Creek, this has been an especially traumatic time. On Friday, Eric Smith a former defensive end and a 2017 Timber Creek graduate who was attending West Virginia University, was shot and killed at a university-run apartment complex near the main campus.