“It’s something you never really forget.”
UT’s head cross country coach, Jarrett Slaven, remembers clearly the moment five years ago when he heard one of his runners, Ryan McCall, had died. He was standing on the track when his phone rang.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Slaven said. “And then I looked down and saw all the lights going, and I knew it was true.”
McCall, a University of Tampa senior, was fatally shot while walking home from a birthday party with a friend in 2009. David Earl Williams Jr. was found guilty Friday of first-degree felony murder and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
McCall, an exercise science major, had been a member of the UT track and cross country teams for three years.
Slaven remains close with McCall’s family and supports them by attending Ryan’s Run, an annual race at UT every year to honor the slain runner’s memory. While the trial was happening, Slaven kept up with the details and talked with McCall’s father several times.
“His father made a lot of good comments in the paper. You just have to sit back and let the prosecution and the case do their job,” he said. “They’re very supportive of the detective working the case and the whole system. They just realize what has to be done.”
McCall had been an athlete since high school. UT track was a family affair; his brother had graduated from UT three years earlier and running track. Slaven remembers how distraught the team was and what the team lost when they lost McCall. The team and the coaches have stayed close to cope with the traumatic loss they suffered together.
“He interacted with everyone; he was very sociable and very funny,” Slaven said of McCall. “He kept a lot of us going because he had a good sense of humor and he was very motivated to be a runner, and he talked about maybe becoming a coach later on at a high school or a day care school at some point. He had plans, so it was really devastating news.”
Some trial-watchers believed Williams’ conviction seemed out of reach for prosecutors due to a dearth of evidence. Williams left behind no fingerprints, DNA or evidence connecting him to the murder. The only witness was McCall’s friend, who had been intoxicated but managed to record the robber’s voice on his brother’s voicemail, according to The Tampa Tribune. Police said they were able to record Williams revealing details about the crime scene that nobody else could have known, and that was enough to receive a guilty verdict from the jury.
Slaven and others close to McCall remember his sense of humor and his unique fashion choices.
“Believe it or not, he used to wear clothing that you would look at and think that only Ryan could get away with,” Slaven said. “He was quite the fashion statement that way. I think that he always added a real good sense of humor, even during hard practices — a crack of some sort that would make everybody laugh, including me and the coaches.
McCall’s legacy continues at UT through Ryan’s Run and scholarships funded by his family. Members of McCall’s team travel each year to run in his honor, which Slaven feels is a testimony to his character. This year’s Ryan’s Run will take place this Saturday in Centennial Park in Ybor City.
“People and team members come from all over the country and the state to race in his honor, so I’d say that’s a pretty good sign that he was loved,” Slaven said.
Mia Glatter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org