When the head coach’s son is installed as the starting quarterback, the criticism is almost instinctive.
“You’re only the quarterback because your dad’s the coach.”
In light of that perception, some head coaches will over-correct in their interaction with their offspring. Basically, they’ll take the hard line and make it even tougher on their son than a typical player. That’s the approach that La Vega coach Willie Williams originally took with his son, Jamal, back in the fall of 2014, during Jamal’s freshman year.
“Coach (George) Dixon had come to me and he told me, we were getting ready to start district play, and he said, ‘Don’t penalize your son because his last name is Williams,’” Willie Williams said. “And whenever Coach Dixon gives me some advice, I look at it and I take it. I took his advice, put him in there and the rest is history.”
Nowadays, someone would have to be out of their mind to complain about favoritism with Jamal as La Vega’s QB. Since taking over that spot after moving up from the freshman team, he is 47-3 as the Pirates’ field general, tied with Roshauud Paul of Bremond for the most wins by a quarterback in 11-man Texas schoolboy history. One more win, and he’ll become the state’s all-time winningest quarterback.
Two more, and he’ll provide La Vega with its second state championship, to go with the one he helped engineer in 2015.
Jamal said that he was oblivious to the state record until his father informed him of it following La Vega’s 28-18 regional final victory over Liberty Hill last week.
“When I first heard about it, I wasn’t really that worried about it, because I didn’t really know,” Jamal said. “He didn’t want to tell me until after the game, because he thought it was going to be all in my head. I already look at it as a cool accomplishment, but I’m worried about getting another win. That’s what I’m worried about.”
Willie Williams’ blood type is a rare one — BG positive, because the man bleeds blue and gold. Forty years ago, he was a standout running back at La Vega, graduating in 1977. In 1983, he returned to his old high school as an assistant coach. In 1990, he landed what he has described as a “winning lottery ticket” when he was promoted to the Pirates’ head coach.
In many ways, it’s been his dream job, but never more so than during the seasons in which he coached his sons. Vincent Williams, Willie’s oldest son, served as the team’s QB from 2003-05, fighting through a knee injury to earn a scholarship to Kilgore Junior College.
In 2014, it was Jamal’s turn to take the wheel of the Pirates’ ship. But not before his apprenticeship on the freshman team.
Jamal wanted to play on the varsity more than anything. Nevertheless, he understood his dad’s position.
“It was real tough, but at the same time it was good, because he had to be hard on me,” Jamal said. “Because if I was going to do that job, he had to fully trust me. To fully trust me, he had to be hard on me. And it was pretty hard, but I took it.”
There are quarterbacks in Texas who are bigger and taller than Jamal, and those who have a more powerful arm. But few could match La Vega’s senior leader in terms of tenacity and the will to win. The pilot light on his competitive fire never so much as flickers.
“He leads the team. He’s a competitor,” Willie Williams said. “He’s really the one that makes everything go. He’s got so much on his back, and being the head coach’s son, that puts even more pressure on him. But he takes it in stride. He and my oldest son, they have pretty much the same demeanor. They just take it. If it’s bothering them, they don’t show it.
“He just believes he can win. I don’t care what the situation is. He hates losing. He’s going to compete until the very end.”
Jamal may abhor losing, but fortunately for La Vega he hasn’t had to suffer the feeling too much. In his sophomore season of 2015, he directed the Pirates to a 16-0 season and an epic 33-31 win over Argyle in the Class 4A Division I state final.
Jamal scored the winning touchdown in that game on a QB sneak with 11 seconds left. The most firm tackle he faced all night was the bear hug that engulfed him after the final horn sounded, courtesy of his father.
Last season, La Vega won its first 13 games before stumbling in the regional final to district rival China Spring. Now the Pirates are 14-0 and knocking on the door of another final, with a state semifinal matchup against top-ranked Carthage sitting between them and a trip to AT&T Stadium for the Class 4A Division I state championship game.
At the Williams’ home, though, talk of touchdowns and Jerryworld is muted. Willie will occasionally call Jamal into the room when he’s examining the film of an upcoming opponent. For the most part, however, football is a forbidden subject.
“It’s off limits,” Jamal said. “We have our time being coach and player, and then we have our time being father and son. That’s the time being father and son.”
La Vega’s winning formula doesn’t require translation from the chemistry teacher. A righteous running game plus a prodigious offensive line divided by a stifling defense equals many, many victory formations.
And yet it would be foolish to dismiss Jamal as nothing more than a game manager at QB. Yes, La Vega prefers to push the pigskin into the belly of its running backs. The Pirates know where their bread is buttered.
But they’ll take their shots downfield, too, and Jamal throws as tight a spiral as one could want. On the season, he has passed for 1,719 yards and 17 touchdowns while contributing five more TDs on the ground.
“We choose to do what we do well,” Willie said. “If we wanted to be a passing team, I guarantee you he could do it. He’s got (nearly) 2,000 yards right now passing. We’ve got those studs at running back, and we’re going to go with our strength, with some play-action. That’s who we are, that’s who we’ve been for the last few years. We’ve won all these games with it, so we’re not going to change that.”
Makes sense — why mess with what works? Besides, if winning is what you want most from your quarterback, Jamal has mastered that skill. He takes the field with a something-to-prove chip on his shoulder. In some ways, he’s still the freshman kid champing at the bit, wanting to show his dad that he has what it takes.
“That built me, honestly. That built me,” Jamal said. “It built my work ethic, my mental strength and all that.”
As the Williams Era of La Vega football nears its conclusion, father and son are trying to mix pleasure with business. Jamal knows that he has no more than two games left. As for Willie, the La Vega lifer has not announced his future plans yet, but he always said that he wanted to see Jamal through his high school career before exploring the idea of retirement.
They’re trying to savor every moment, even as they see the inevitable closure of this chapter.
“It definitely is (bittersweet). It kind of hit me, really, the last home ball game,” Willie said. “I realized that was his last ball game on that field. I got emotional about it, because I’ve been with him for four years here, and he’s done such a great job. I’m just going to miss him dearly.”
Coach and quarterback, father and son. When those roles converge, it makes for an interesting dynamic. At La Vega, though, it has produced nothing but priceless memories for the Williams men.
“It’s been a blessing from God,” Willie said. “If I could have painted a perfect picture, this would be it. That’s been my dream, to be able to coach my kids at my alma mater. God has just blessed me so, I can’t even describe it. “