An investigation into how a University of Hawaii football player died in the waters off Sandy Beach early Saturday morning is underway.
The Honolulu Fire Department's search and rescue crews were called to Sandy Beach in Hawaii Kai at 4:30 a.m.
Friends of 21-year-old Willis Wilson told officials they were playing along the beach when they noticed Wilson was missing.
“He reportedly was at the water’s edge, maybe up to about knee deep and being at Sandy beach, which is notorious for body surfing and strong current, maybe he got overwhelmed by the surf,” said Honolulu Fire Department Capt. James Todd.
Wilson was a walk-on running back who transferred from the University of Washington.
Wilson graduated from Lakes High School in Lakewood Washington where he was an all-state running back and the South Puget Sound League's offensive player of the year as a senior.
He hadn't played in any UH games this season and wasn't with the players who stayed at a Waikiki hotel prior to Saturday night’s game against Army.
The search for Wilson was by air, land and sea. The Coast Guard was called in to assist in the search about 6 a.m.
Authorities said Wilson’s body was found near the area of Gas Chambers after divers joined in the search about two hours after the initial call for help.
Family and friends said Wilson was well-liked.
Head football coach Norm Chow released a statement saying the team is saddened by Wilson’s passing and that "(Wilson) was a very fun-loving young man, who was well-liked by his teammates.”
"He was an exciting football player who came to us from the University of Washington whom we felt would help us at running back. He overcame some obstacles in his life and he was the perfect lesson to our team to never quit. Our thoughts and prayers are with Willis' family during this difficult time,” Chow said.
Authorities said Wilson's death is being classified as an unattended death.