Roy Exum: Jeremy's Big Reward

Wednesday, February 24, 2010 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Some may recall that in late November I was lucky enough to write about Jeremy Williams, the heroic football coach at little Greenville High School down in central Georgia. Those who read that story will remember the 37-year-old firebrand has been stricken with Lou Gehrig's Disease and that when his boys were trailing 21-0 in the playoffs, he called his team to the sidelines and, in a faint, raspy voice, told his kids, "At Greenville we don't give up ... We never give up."

Well, the Patriots lost that Class A game, 39-19, but it was still "the season of a lifetime." As you read this, Jeremy Williams and his family are today in Colorado and, in the great and glorious way good things sometimes happen, just before they left on the sudden, all-expenses-paid journey on Sunday their cell phones were confiscated so nobody will talk to them as they spend what will undoubtedly be "the week of a lifetime."

You see, out of certain tragedy here's a story that has only gotten better. Among the television programs you can watch right now is a popular reality show called "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." So this past weekend, some police officers blocked off the street to Coach Williams' house on Pine Mountain so a wild parade of more police cruisers with lights and full sirens, a spectacular and colorful bus, TV cameras galore and the best builders in America could arrive in a mighty roar to his front door.

Coach Williams, whose fierce and valiant fight has enthralled and inspired people across the nation, was promptly told to "pack his bags" and gather up his family for a grand week in Colorado because - get this - the crews are literally tearing down his house and building one much better to adapt to the needs of Jeremy and his family, which includes a six-year-old son with spina bifida.

Oh, Sunday was huge. The startled family was first whisked to the high school's football field where - surprise - the whole team and many fans, all cheering and laughing and sobbing at the same time, was on hand. Suddenly all were further shocked to see NFL star Michael Oher show up to lend to the joyful madness. Oher, you'll recall, is the huge man-child whose thrilling life story was just profiled in the hit movie "Blind Side."

Carol Lane, the county school superintendent, said, "Jeremy was shocked, and I know when I talked to him later, all he could do was say, 'I am so humbled ... ' He was crying, his wife was crying ... well, everybody there was crying!"

Lane also said, "This couldn’t happen to a nicer family. It’s hard for me to talk about them without crying. Jeremy is a blessing to more people than you can ever imagine. He has been a father figure to many of our students that don’t have their fathers around.

“He has taught all of us, whatever comes your way in life, you’ve got the decision to feel sorry for yourself, or live life to the fullest. Jeremy has been through so much and has never given up. He’s just as blessing to everybody that meets him.”

Is that the best you've ever heard! It seems when the TV show's producers heard the story and starting secretly sniffing around, it was quickly determined the house's foundation was broken and there was some mold inside the walls. Makeover? No, the unbelievable decision was made to tear the whole house down and replace it, all in one week of round-the-clock fury while the family is playing in the Colorado snow. Can you imagine what the vacationing Williamses are thinking this very minute?

There's more. So moved by the entire story was the "Extreme Makeover" crowd they also are tackling the high school's football facilities, renovating the locker room and sprucing things up in a way the entire town will never forget what Jeremy Williams has meant to the once-sleepy town of Greenville and its high school where all 330 kids have been transformed by Jeremy's 44 football players.

Allow me to flash back for a moment. After the Greenville football team finally folded in the state playoffs in late November, ending with a stunning 11-1 record, a brilliant writer named Steve Hummer sat down with Jeremy's wife Jennifer, who told how "heart-breaking" the end of the season was because - let's face it - it signaled the end to a lot of things.

When Steve, who writes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, asked the coach's wife about Jeremy's Patriots, listen to what she said. "This team is so sensitive - and they’re guys. I mean that in a manly way, they are sensitive to his physical struggles.

“You always have that line - you don’t want to step on somebody’s pride, but you want to help them if they need help. His guys really know how to balance that. They don’t say, ‘Do you need help?’ They just do it.

“We were at a cookout for a whole bunch of athletes and (Jeremy) was trying to squeeze the ketchup out on his hamburger. A kid saw him struggling with it and just took it from him and did it without saying any words. They do things like that all the time and don’t make a big deal out of it,” his wife said.

Well, guess what? God makes a big deal out of it. Are you kidding me, Jeremy Williams is getting weaker and weaker. Nobody knows how much time he has left. Do you think he worries about his family? About the house's broken foundation and the mold? About his six-year-old with spina bifida? What is going to happen next? Well, God worries about that, too.

So, because I believe like I do, I have it firmly figured the Lord Himself somehow got the attention of "Extreme Makeover." The TV show is building him a new house, better suited to the family's needs and, while the hammers and saws and paint brushes are at fever pitch, Coach Williams and his family are on an all-expenses-paid week in the Colorado Rockies that none of them will ever forget. Are you with me here?

When the writer asked Jennifer about how she's preparing her own two children to face the worst, she answered the same way. “Some people would say you need to be telling them and preparing them. My feeling is they live in the house with us. They don’t miss that he can’t button his pants. They don’t miss that he can’t tie his shoes. They don’t miss that he can’t really wrestle around with them, that he can no longer pick up Jacob, that he has trouble picking up the wheelchair.

“They’re kids. They see everything. They’re going to watch whatever God’s plan is play out. My preparation for them is much more spiritual, it’s much more of trying to teach them to trust Jesus in all things. That will be the most important lesson for them as things play out.”

On Sunday things will start "playing out" again. Jeremy and his family will return to their Pine Mountain home. Oh, it'll be spectacular ... even the barn will be dolled up and the two horses that live in it fully groomed. And there will again be the police sirens, cheering crowds, all his football players, TV cameras everywhere and, yes, literally buckets of tears.

Don't you see? This is one time that God has tipped His hand. Coach Williams will get a glimpse of the "big reward" while he's still right here on earth. Yes, he is deeply humbled, but there's more. He will know he's loved. Oh, my goodness, is he loved.

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