A NEW ERA
Williams on being named next Dodger head coach: ‘Let’s lace it up and go’
Fifteen months ago, Willie Williams was fighting for his life.
Coaching wasn’t a priority at the time, but it was still a motivating factor during his long road to recovery from a cerebellar stroke. And on Wednesday, Williams found the light at the end of the tunnel by landing his dream job: head varsity boys basketball coach at Fort Dodge Senior High, pending board approval.
“When it started to hit me that I wasn’t just going to be in and out of rehab (after the stroke) — that it was more like a matter of months than a few weeks — one of the first things I started focusing on, after my family of course, was the kids I coached,” the 29-year-old Williams said. “I always tell them to keep fighting. Never quit. Face adversity head-on. So it was time for me to step up and practice what I had always preached.
“These kids in our community — they kept me going. They still keep me going. It’s an inspiration for me. It’s why I do what I do. That energy from coaching is what (fuels) me every single day.”
Williams, a 2011 FDSH graduate, served for eight seasons on Tom Daniel’s staff. When Daniel stepped down after 13 seasons at the helm in March, Williams — a former Dodger basketball, football and track standout — turned in his application with a vision in mind.
“I’ve been picturing this for a long time,” said Williams, a behavior intervention specialist at FDSH. “When (incoming activities director Josh Porter) called to tell me I got the job, I was in rehab, so he left a voicemail to call me back. I got very excited and nervous when we talked about it. I’m incredibly honored and thankful for the faith (the search committee) is showing in me.
“Now that it’s sinking in, it’s time to get to work. Let’s lace it up and go.”
Daniel won 111 games during his tenure. All but one player is scheduled to return to the Dodger lineup from the 2020-21 campaign, and recently, Monterius Altman-Abrams — a starter two years ago as a sophomore — announced he was moving back to Fort Dodge after a year in Kansas City.
“It’s a great opportunity to be able to play for Coach Williams my senior year. I couldn’t ask for a better coach or friend,” point guard Bradley Vodraska said. “I think it’s a positive step not only for me but all of Dodger basketball. He will push us hard to reach our goals and succeed.”
Vodraska, Carson Peterson and Drake Callon will be seniors and returning starters, along with 2021-22 junior Javion Jondle. Alex Underwood, Triston Bockoven, Jonny Astor, Jon Presswood, Bo Tracy and Aidan Porter were also junior letterwinners this past winter.
“I played for Coach Williams my freshman year on JV. It was an honor,” Jondle said. “He’s all around one of the best coaches I’ve ever played for. Personally, Coach Williams is a mentor for me. I go to him for everything I’m dealing with on and off the court and field.
“He truly means a lot to me, so for him to get this job after going through what he’s been through is just a blessing. I couldn’t be more proud of him and what he’s accomplished so far. I can’t wait to see what he does for us, and I can’t wait to play under him once again.”
The next step for Williams will be forming a staff and shaking the bushes this summer to find more basketball players.
“Getting kids to go out for ball, whether we’re talking at the varsity level or all the way down to the young kids, is a top priority,” Williams said. “I want kids to be excited about basketball. Wins and losses will come and go, but it’s about building relationships with the kids and each other. That’s what makes this sport great.
“It will take some time, but I want to get everyone on board and make basketball big for the kids of our community.”
Williams thanked Daniel, who was both his coach as a Dodger player and mentor once he joined the staff.
“Coach Daniel is a great guy. I love him,” Williams said. “He was there for me as a player, and I’ve learned a lot working for him about how to handle a game from the sidelines. There’s so much more to it than what most people see. A lot goes on behind the scenes. I’m still learning and growing when it comes to (the game within the game).”
As for Williams’ definition of a Dodger, he added, “it means you respect the game, your teammates and your opponent. You play hard no matter what. You’re coachable. And you do the right things both on and off the court.
“You support each other, carry a good attitude and are there for each other no matter what.”
Williams is just the third former FDSH player in the program’s 111-year history to also assume the role of head coach, joining Tom Goodman and Don Cook.
Williams and his wife, Paige, have three children: son Willie Jr., age 6; daughter Pipar, 1; and son Wilder, 2 months.