When the Denver Broncos host the Baltimore Ravens Saturday afternoon in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, running back Knowshon Moreno will take the field wearing No. 27 for Denver.
Not so many years ago, however, that number belonged to a small, quick, hard-hitting cornerback named Darrent Williams.
Williams stood only 5-foot-8, but he played with a huge heart. During his college career at Oklahoma State, he thrilled fans with his defense, but also with his electrifying returns. During his college career, he returned five interceptions, three punts and one blocked extra point for touchdowns. He returned two interceptions for touchdowns against Baylor during his freshman year.
The Broncos selected him in the second round of the 2005 NFL Draft. In his rookie season, he earned a starting job, recording 58 tackles and two interceptions, while also leading the team in punt and kickoff returns.
He started again in his second year, making 86 tackles and four interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown. The 2006 season ended on Dec. 31.
Hours later, Darrent Williams was dead. He had rented a stretch Hummer limo to transport him and some friends to and from a New Year’s celebration at a club in downtown Denver. Just two hours into the new year, an SUV pulled up next to the limo and began spraying it with bullets from a handgun. One bullet struck Williams in the neck, killing him. He was 24.
A 26-year-old man, Willie Clark, was arrested, tried for, and convicted of, the murder. He was apparently angry about an altercation that had taken place earlier that night inside the nightclub between his group and Williams’ friends.
Today, six years later, Clark sits in prison, serving a life sentence. Meanwhile, Williams’ memory is being kept alive at a teen center that bears his name in the Montbello neighborhood of Denver.
The Denver Post reported recently that while many of the young people active in the youth center don’t know Williams’ story, the legacy of service he left is continuing.
He grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, spending many hours at the Boys and Girls Club. After joining the Broncos, the Post said, he devoted much of his free time to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Denver.
Active members of the Williams teen center have a graduation rate of better than 90 percent, Denver Boys and Girls Club director Rich Barrows told the Post.
The center promotes one message, said Barrows, “You can do better, and you can go farther than just getting out of high school.”
The center offers a pool table, over-stuffed lounge chairs, a computer lab, a big-screen TV and a slate of activities, including music, basketball and bowling.
Barrows told the Post the center holds teen night every Friday until 11 p.m. to keep kids off the streets.
The center is a fitting tribute to Williams, who was remembered by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell as “A young man that represented his family and his community and his football team in a very positive way.”
The Darrent Williams Memorial Teen Center might not ever turn out a college football star, much less one who goes on to be a starter in the National Football League, but that’s OK.
The center’s goal is not to produce another Darrent Williams, but to keep from producing another Willie Clark.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.