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Troup volleyball players put to the test

By Kevin Eckleberry

kevin.eckleberry@lagrangenews.com

LAGRANGE – He’s still coaching.

Jeremy Williams was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease 10 years ago, and it has cost him so much, including his voice and his mobility.

Williams, formerly a successful head football coach at Greenville, has not given up leading and encouraging young people, though, he just does it in a different way.

Williams’ daughter Josie plays volleyball at Harris County High, and he regularly leads she and her teammates through what’s called a jump-training session.

Jodi Dowden, whose decade-long stint as Troup’s head volleyball coach will come to an end this fall after she stepped down from that position, was familiar with Williams’ jump-training program.

Dowden, who has gotten to know

Williams through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, invited him to come work with the Troup volleyball players, and he accepted.

Last week, Williams, along with his daughter Josie, his wife Jennifer, and his son Jacob, came to Troup and led the players through a two-hour jump-training session.

While Williams has not been able to speak for years, he is able to communicate thanks to a computerized speech generator.

Williams types in what he wants to say, and the computer vocalizes his words.

In that manner, Williams was able to lead the class, and he kept Troup’s players on the go for the full two hours.

Regina Hernandez, who will be a senior starter on Troup’s team this fall, said the workout was “very hard,” but valuable.

“We kept saying, we really need to continue to do this heading into the season, especially because we’re a short team,” Hernandez said. “This would really benefit us playing against these other taller teams.”

Hernandez had met Williams before at an FCA function, and she said having him there leading the class was a powerful motivator.

“It kind of made me feel like I need to show up even more, just to show him that I can actually do this,” Hernandez said.

By the time Dowden met Williams, he had already been dealing with the disease for close to eight years, and she said he is “such an inspiration to me.”

“He and I got to be friends a few years ago,” Dowden said. “I met him for the first time, and found out that his daughter was involved in volleyball. We’ve actually been talking about this for a couple of years. He and I started talking about it again this spring, and I talked to (new Troup head coach Leigh Bailey) and was able to line that up. And I’m so thankful that he was able to come, and that the girls were able to meet him.”

Bailey, an assistant coach the past few seasons under Dowden, said the jump-training course was a huge benefit for the players.

“Each drill is catered to volleyball,” Bailey said. “Every little drill, everything they were asked to do is going to correlate to the volleyball court. It’s going to help them.”

Josie Williams, who helped demonstrate many of the drills last week, said her father teaches a jump-training course in Harris County.

“We do it regularly at the Harris County Community Center,” she said. “We do it twice a week. So this is a regular thing he does for me, and anyone else. He always invites everyone.”

Jeremy Williams may be her father, but that doesn’t mean he takes it easy on her.

The same drive and determination that helped make him a successful football coach serves him well now.

“I’ve had times, especially where I started, where I’d be crying jumping the hurdles,” Josie said. “And the whole time he’d just say, keep going, we are not leaving. I don’t care if they close the door and lock us in here, we are not leaving until you jump this hurdle.”

Bailey said it meant a lot to have the entire Williams family at the school last week.

“It’s special for me to be here, just having the whole family here,” she said. “It’s wonderful.”

The training session was part of a busy summer for the Lady Tigers, who are looking to build on their successful 2016 season that included a state-tournament win.

Troup will host a preseason scrimmage on July 25 with Callaway and LaGrange, and the season begins in early August.