By Oliver Gettell
September 20, 2017 at 09:31 PM EDT
Jean Baptiste Lacroix/WireImage

Bernie Casey, the actor and former athlete known for his roles in movies including Revenge of the Nerds and I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, as well as his seasons with the NFL’s 49ers and Rams, died Tuesday in Los Angeles after a brief illness. He was 78.

His agent confirmed the news to EW and said Casey passed away peacefully, surrounded by loved ones.

A West Virginia native, Casey shined as a track star at Bowling Green State University and was subsequently drafted by the San Francisco 49ers as a top 10 pick. He spent six seasons there as a wide receiver and two more with the Los Angeles Rams, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl in 1967.

After making the leap to Hollywood, Casey was perhaps best known for playing U.N. Jefferson, head of the black fraternity Lambda Lambda Lambda, in the 1984 comedy Revenge of the Nerds and two TV sequels. His other screen credits included the western sequel Guns of the Magnificent Seven, the James Bond movie Never Say Never Again, and the Martin Scorsese film Boxcar Bertha, as well as Cleopatra Jones, Another 48 Hrs., and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

An avid painter and poet, Casey also published a book of such work, Look at the People, in 1969.