SARASOTA, Fla.- He was not a household name. In fact, even hardcore Florida Gators football fans probably don't remember him today. But those who watched Tony Waters play at Sarasota High School say the 1976 graduate was unforgettable.
"He was, at that time, the best. He was the best in the area, no question about it," said longtime Sarasota High Football coach Charlie Cleland, who spent 37 years at the school. Cleland still remembers how proud he was the day his star player got a full ride to the University of Florida.
"I'm excited for him every step of the way, because he's such a deserving young man."
But in 1978, the final game of his sophomore year, Waters suffered a devastating injury to his knee.
"He played in the Miami game and he was probably our star in that game," said longtime Gators Booster Club member and local attorney Art Ginsburg. "He got hurt in the end and it really destroyed him."
Told he'd never play again, Waters left his scholarship and the University of Florida behind. He took various jobs working construction and at golf courses, never planning to go back until Ginsburg, a longtime mentor who coached him in little league, convinced him otherwise.
"I found out he only had eight [credit hours] left. I said, 'What are you crazy?! They'll let you back,' and they did," recalls Ginsburg.
Waters graduated with a near 3.0 GPA in economics.
"Gosh, I was so proud of him," recalls his former coach.
But tonight, his biggest fans are equally as crushed. Sheriff's investigators say Water's own stepson, 28-year-old Charles Dailey, Jr., shot him multiple times. According to the Sheriff's Office report, Dailey called 9-1-1 and remained on scene, eventually telling deputies he fired in self defense after his stepfather attacked him with a knife. But homicide detectives say they never found a knife anywhere near Water's body. They eventually charged Dailey with second degree murder.
"I read that in the paper and I just wept. I couldn't believe it," Cleland told 10 News Saturday.
Tony Waters never became a football superstar, but those who knew him best say, more importantly, he became a good man, a man whose life, much like his playing career, was taken away too soon.