Greenville returns Jeremy Williams, coach with ALS, to the playoffs

Greenville High's football team, which is coached by Jeremy Williams, needed some last-second heroics to make the state playoffs. Williams has the terminal diagnosis of ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease.

What was Greenville's reward for rallying to defeat Brookstone last week? The Patriots (8-2) will play at No. 1-ranked Clinch County (10-0) on Friday in the first round of the Class A playoffs. Last season, the Patriots advanced to the second round of the playoff before losing to Wilcox County.

"It's a great opportunity to play the No. 1 team in the state," Williams said. "Nobody expects us to have a chance to win except for us. Clinch has a great team, and we're excited about the opportunity to play such a great program."

Last Friday was a little different for Greenville. Williams, whose health has continued to deteriorate, vacated his familiar spot on the sidelines because of health reasons. He called plays from the press box because he wasn't feeling well and temperatures were in the 30s.

Williams recently has had trouble with breathing and couldn't muster enough strength to blow out a pair of candles on his 39th birthday cake. Two Greenville players stepped to the table to help the coach finish the task.

Williams wears a headset and voice-amplification box around his waist so he doesn't have to expend as much energy to talk. At night, he wears both a feeding tube and oxygen mask.

Yet the frail coach, motivated by his responsibility to his players while rooted in his deep faith, presses forward as coach of the Patriots.

The neurodegenerative disease has robbed Williams of his physical strength and motor skills, but his mind is sharp as ever, as is the coach's determination.

"He never fails to amaze me," said Carol Lane, superintendent of Meriwether County Schools. "His drive and desire are incredible. Most people would've packed up and gone home a long time ago. Not Jeremy Williams."

Against Brookstone, Greenville had to win to make the state playoffs. The Patriots trailed 14-0 by the second quarter. Buzz Busby, a  retired coaching legend who won state championships at Kendrick and Statesboro, attends all of his son's home games at Greenville. Tripp Busby is defensive coordinator for the Patriots.

Sometimes the old coach, watching from the stands, will offer some strategic advice to his son. "He really tries to stay away from it," Tripp Busby said. "But if he sees something, sometimes he'll let us know. Sometimes I will take it to Jeremy to discuss and other times I won't. It just all depends."

In the second half, Greenville made some adjustments and staged a comeback. With a couple of minutes left in regulation, the Patriots got in position to score the game-winning touchdown. By that time, Williams had left the press box in his motorized wheelchair to join his team on the field.

On fourth down from the 6-yard line, Greenville quarterback Mario Alford appeared to be tackled in the backfield, but wrestled away and somehow found a way to the end zone with 44 seconds left for the dramatic 14-10 win.

"It's just one miracle after another miracle after another," said Atlanta filmmaker Rick Cohen, who is following the coach for his "Season of a Lifetime" documentary.