Greenville – ONE DAY after his heart-wrenching story was told to a national TV audience, Jeremy Williams was back in his comfort zone on Monday — coaching high school football in rural Georgia.
Some things have changed since last February’s taping for “Extreme Makeover” and Sunday’s night’s broadcast on ABC-TV, while other things have remained the same. Williams is progressively getting weaker from the terminal illness of ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, but the coach’s faith and determination remain as strong as ever.
Williams had mixed feelings about the final edited version of the TV show.
“The whole experience was such a blessing,” he said. “My family and I are so thankful to so many people for everything they did for us.
“My only disappointment was that they cut my faith-based comments out. I’m the man I am because of God. Not because of my strength, but God’s strength. That’s how I can smile and say I have ALS.
“Everybody around here knows that, but I wish the nation would’ve heard that message, too.”
Williams, 38, has seen his health deteriorate a little further since the end of Greenville’s magical season last November. The Patriots, inspired by the resilient attitude of the fiery coach, posted an undefeated record in the regular season, finally losing in the playoffs to the eventual state champions.
Before Monday’s spring practice at Greenville High, Williams closed his office door and put on an oxygen mask from a portable breathing machine for about five minutes. He uses it 3-4 times per day, including always before heading for the football field, to exercise his lungs.
Williams also had a feeding tube inserted above his rib cage after losing an alarming amount of weight (20 pounds) over a two-week period in February. He still has a healthy appetite and eats regular meals, with the tube providing necessary supplements. He has regained nearly half of the weight.
“They (doctors) said it was from muscle twitching, or fasciculation,” said his wife, Jennifer. “A person like that can burn 1,000 calories per day, and Jeremy couldn’t eat enough to make up for the loss.”
There are also little things noticeable at practice. Rather than parking his golf cart at the gate and walking the rest of the way, as he did last football season, Williams motored onto the field and sat for most of the two-hour workout.
When the coach gave instructions and demonstrations to his players on Monday, he stood for 10-minute intervals and then took a knee to finish observing the drill. He also has been fitted with a brace for his left foot, which was built at a 90-degree angle so Williams doesn’t have to lift his foot as high to carry it over his toes when walking.
Despite all the physical woes, Williams appeared to be upbeat and energetic among his players on Monday. He joked with a couple of freshmen running backs that they might be sitting behind him on sidelines next season if they didn’t learn how to cradle the ball properly. He also yelled with encouragement during five-on-five linemen drills.
But the talk of the day at football practice, around Greenville, and across the state was the family’s appearance on national TV. Rather than extensive remodeling, the “Extreme Makeover” crew bulldozed the Pine Mountain house of Williams, and built a new one to accommodate the health issues of the coach, along with those of his son, Jacob, who was born with spina bifida.
Among the other gifts presented were college scholarships to Columbus State for the couple’s two children, along with CVS picking up all the family’s unpaid medical bills through mid-February. Greenville High benefitted, too, as the athletic fieldhouse was renovated with new carpet and paint, weight-lifting equipment, and a state-of-the art computer editing system for breaking down game film. The Patriots were also awarded $25,000 worth of new uniforms, helmets, pads and shoes.
On Sunday night, Williams and his family watched the show on a big-screen TV with around 200 friends and family members at a firefighter association’s building in Columbus. Jacob, 7, stole the spotlight with his witty and timely comments during the season-ending episode.
“I think it went wonderfully well and was a good depiction of our family,” said Jennifer, who was recognized by customers at the LaGrange Wal-Mart on Monday.
“They had your serious moments, and then they would follow it up with a lighter moment. So there was sniffling, and then there was a lot of laughing, especially when Jacob (chimed in) with comments.”
At school on Monday, the coach was congratulated by teachers and students, and took some good-natured ribbing from his assistants. “What was the deal with that 80s haircut in your prom photo?” joked defensive coordinator Tripp Busby.
Williams said he felt a sense of relief after the broadcast of the show. “We’re very thankful for everything, but we’re ready to get back to us being us … you know, a normal way of life. It was a great experience, but it wears you out being pulled in so many different directions.”
Note: I have been contacted by many people who request the email for Coach Jeremy Williams. It is available on the school’s website (click here).