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“ALL I WANT TO DO IS PLAY”
Full text of Coach Neuheisel’s memorial speech
Posted 17 May 2002

The following is the full text of Coach Rick Neuheisel's talk, given during the memorial service for Curtis Williams, Number 25, held  at Hec Edmunson Pavilion on Tuesday, 14 May 2002.

“As a football coach you ask a lot of things of your players. You ask them to do all kinds of things. And chief among these things are number one to compete, whether it be on or off the field. You ask them to compete. Find a way to get better each and every day.

"Never quit, never say die. Keep competing, whether it be in practice, whether it be in a game, whether it be in a class, whether it be in life. You keep competing.

“The second thing you ask in our great game of football--and certainly other great games--is you understand the concept of team. You understand what it means to be on the team, the giving of yourself, the separation of your individual goals so that we can put everybody’s talent and everybody’s energy and resources into a center--a core. So that we can achieve. We can achieve. And when we achieve all those individual things will come like you can’t even imagine.

“Well, Curtis Williams certainly understood competition. He could compete like none other. You watch him play. We could go get any film that he played--any tape. I could turn it on here and you would watch Number 25 running helter-skelter to the ball, finding a way to make a play. Every time he played he led our team in special teams. Not the most glamorous time of a game. But it didn’t matter to him; he was playing and he was going to get to the ball.

“He understood competition. And when it mattered most, when his arms and legs were taken from him—and it was absolutely painstaking to take a breath—that might have been his finest hour in terms of competition. Finding a way to compete. 

“We flew down each and every Thursday after the injury. And a new group of people would go. It was always remarkable to me because I’d been there the day after the injury. I’d gotten over my shock that such a vibrant young man could be stripped of everything, at least the use of his body in such a way. And so that each of the new people that would go—their first time getting a chance to see him—were nervous.

“It was obvious in the aircraft, and my thanks to all the people providing the use of their aircraft so that we could get down there.

“They were nervous.

“And having been the one that had been there, I’d kind of try to tell them, you know what? He’ll make you feel great. You will be amazed. He will make you feel great. He will not ask for your pity. He will not ask for anything other than a smile. That’s all he wants you to do.

“And when we got back on the plane each and every Thursday night, around 11 o’clock, midnight, whenever the hospital would kick us out, it was unbelievable the amount of tension that had been relieved from these people who would go on these trips. Their shoulders would be…‘I can’t believe how good he was. I can’t believe how better I feel now. I can’t believe what a true warrior he really is.’

“Well, believe it they could.

“Curtis understood competition. For all of us who knew him, we will forever use his name in conjunction with that term.

“He also understood team. He knew what it was to be on the team. He would play anything. I don’t care. ‘Where do you want me? I’ll play. Let me in. I want to be on the team.’

“He was close with his teammates. It was remarkable for me  yesterday at the service, to watch all the team, the guys who had been around him--just grieve--and as I mentioned come from all over the country to be apart of that, to say goodbye to their pal.

“He understood team. He gave of himself, like we would never ask of anybody. He gave of himself.

“Maybe the most remarkable incident of that after the injury was at the Rose bowl. We were coming to the game and the plan was for Curtis to be in the press box. Remember this is the first time he’s left the hospital. He was really, really struggling to make the trip, because it was not probably the prescribed thing for a person, so recently injured. And he gets to the game and I get a phone call on the bus; we're maybe 15 minutes from the stadium. Curtis has changed the plan. ‘Ah, coach, come on.’ He’s changed the plan. He says, ‘To hell with the press box, I want to be in the locker room.’

“Well, the coach, the parent, the person in the plane going to see this is nervous. Players haven’t seen this young man. They haven’t seen him in his current state. They remember Curtis as this vibrant, aggressive, hard-hitting safety who’d make every play.  And then he'd get up and knock you down again. They hadn’t seen him, his body confined to a wheel chair. And yet, if Curtis wants it, by God, Curtis is going to get it.

“I got off the bus when we got to the Rose Bowl. I got in each and every bus and I said Curtis is inside, fellows. I want you to go in there, tell him how much you miss him and tell him you're going to win the God Damned game for him.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever see a locker room like that again. That was team. The guys who had the honor to be in that locker room will never forget it. And Curtis didn’t cry. No. Old number 25, wearing his jersey, his rose bowl jersey, was saying, ‘Kick their God Damn ass.’ Excuse my language.

"And so we went out and played the game for Number 25.

"It is significant that on the Rose Bowl ring are his initials…because no one who was a part of that team will ever forget him.

“We said goodbye yesterday, but we’ll never forget.

“First time I met Curtis Williams, I'd just started here. We are out in spring ball and I’m lookin’ down at the tailback line and I’m lookin’ at my defensive backs. I’m saying you know that number 25 kid, I think he’d be a heck of player over here. So, I called him over, “I said, Curtis, you ever play defense?

“’Uh-Huh. 

“Will you come over and play?

“‘Hey, coach, all I want to do is play.’

“I said then head on over. He sprinted over there. At the end of practice, Bob Hauck, who you will hear from later, told me that he’d start the first game. It was that obvious.

“Well, as difficult as it is to say goodbye to a young man at such a young age, I prefer to believe that God tapped Curtis on the shoulder and said, “Do you mind playing over here?”

“And all he said was, ‘All I want to do is play.’

We’re going to miss him.”

 

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