Willie Spears

Willie Spears

“This Ain’t What You Want” is a series of opinion articles written by author and keynote speaker Willie Spears. These articles will become a book by the same title written for the purpose of helping people avoid incarceration by making better decisions. Learn more at www.williespears.com.

My first full year as a varsity high school assistant football coach set the foundation of how I would coach over the next twenty years. I played wide receiver my whole life. It started in the youth league for the Millville Warriors in 1985 and ended in the arena league for the Columbus Wardogs in 2001. In my mind, I knew a thing or two about the wide receiver position.

I took pride in teaching my receivers how to roll off their front foot and not take a false step. I focused on the fundamentals of getting their hands inside of the defender and using his shoulder pads like a steering wheel to block successfully. I spent hours teaching them to catch the ball with their eyes and not their hands. They had to see the ball all the way to the tuck pretending there was a string running from their nose to the end of the football as if the two were connected.

I went even further and worked with my players off the field, signing them up for the ACT and helping them get recruited to play college football. In my first year, I had four incredible receivers. They were probably the best receiver group I had in my twenty years as a football coach. All four were different.

James was the youngest and had the best hands. He went on to play for a state championship in high school and made the top 10 list for career receptions at his Division One FCS university. James was first-team all-state.

Dawson had the most potential and was so smooth. Unfortunately, he broke his leg early in the season.

Williams ran the best routes of any receiver I ever coached. He had the ability to stop on a dime and change directions without losing any speed or momentum. Unfortunately, he was arrested after the season. He was first-team all-state.

Zach was the fastest of the four and the best all-around athlete. I believe he went to state in track the previous season and was an all-state wrestler and first-team all-state receiver, even though this was his first time playing the position. Unfortunately, he was arrested after the season.

I was in my mid-twenties and had never faced anything like this before. I was close to Williams and Zach, and it hurt me to hear of their arrest. Several of my family members had been arrested, but this affected me in a whole new way.

I could not stop crying.

I was able to get in to visit one of them, who was sentenced to thirteen years and served eight. During our visit, we never talked about football or school. We talked about faith, forgiveness, prayer, and church. We would write letters back and forth, and the conversation would center around faith.

I was convicted, not of a crime but of not sharing my faith.

I taught these guys how to run routes, block, catch and score; however, I never taught them about my faith. This set the foundation of my coaching career.

Instead of waiting for my players to get in trouble to share my faith, I decided to share my faith with them the first day I met them. Over the next nineteen years, I started each meeting with my testimony. I shared my purpose for coaching and my love for Jesus. I would start my first coaching staff meetings the same way.

When players get in trouble or coaches die, everyone wants to bring faith into the conversation. I decided I would not wait for tragedy to talk about my faith.

Although I have coached players who graduated from West Point and played in the NFL, I have also coached several players who have spent time in jail and prison. Five of them are serving life sentences. When I talk to them, they ask me to tell young people not to make the same mistakes they made.

They say they would not wish this on anyone.

I often wonder if I could have done a better job as a coach to help these young people make better decisions. Thinking back, there have been at least one player at every school that I have coached that has spent time in jail or prison. Therefore, I talked about God often. Why wait until they are scared and afraid of the uncertain future?

Life behind bars was never one of the goals set by my players.

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