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Another Victory for GMC’s Bert Williams

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Notified of his cancer remission in mid-April, Bert Williams just recently finished his chemotherapy regimen a little over a week ago.

This is a rare cancer. This is a cancer that is not curable at this point. I plan on being the first one, setting the standard there and leading the charge. Whatever it takes as we go through all of this."
~Bert Williams

Bert Williams has seen it all.

The iconic Georgia Military College head coach, entering his 24nd season in Milledgeville, has gone 157-52 in 20 years as head coach, has led the Bulldogs to nine National Junior College Athletic Association bowl games and three national championship contests in developing GMC into a consistent power. Inducted into the NJCAA Football Hall of Fame in 2010, Williams is the lone active coach to earn such a distinction. He has won a national title, coached countless pros and thrived in every competitive situation imaginable.

It was the unfathomable that caught him off guard. Williams, early this year, announced he had been diagnosed with Mantle Cell Lymphoma, a rare form of cancer found in bone marrow. 

"The journey was shocking, obviously, initially. I wasn't feeling bad, I wasn't having any issues. This was a blood test that was part of my annual physical," Williams reflected. "It kind of makes you think of things. You almost feel bullet-proof over the years, never had any health issues. The football and athletic mindset, sometimes you just kind of drive through and charge through and get things done and all of the sudden you have to fight through something you weren't expecting. That's a wake-up call in a lot of ways."

Notified of his remission in mid-April, Williams just recently finished his chemotherapy regimen a little over a week ago. It's a milestone to remember.

"Just working hard now to recover. Some of that strength lose you over that process, I'm down about 75 pounds from where I started, I've got some working out to do," Williams chuckled.

Complicating the condition, for Williams, has been that his diagnosis, and recovery process, has come while the world is dealing with COVID-19. In addition to potentially being more dangerous for the immunocompromised, including patients with cancer, the contagious-nature of the coronavirus has come with limitations in terms of where Williams has been able to go and who he has been able to be around. Personal support is critical during any health adversity; current circumstances have forced the way in which Williams has leaned on others to require a little more stretching.

Despite considerable logistical limitations, family, a large group including the vast Georgia Military College community, has been unwavering in their support of Williams and his loved ones. Social media and digital connections have helped Williams bridge the gap, with the coach seeing some through social distancing and often venturing out to his dock to talk to relatively-nearby boaters. 

While Williams' career has long been narrated by numbers, the impact of those who continue to be there for him is simply immeasurable.  

"As far as the support behind me and my family, it's been phenomenal. The GMC family and Milledgeville, Baldwin County, have been absolutely incredible. I got reached out to by guys that I coached as a G.A. at Georgia. It's been neat to reconnect, guys that I coached up at Union College that I hadn't talked to in years, guys my first couple of years here," he added. "It helps, it makes a big difference. If nothing else, there are enough people to think enough to shoot you a good luck message, say 'we're praying for you'. I guess I did something good along the way for those people to have a good thought about you."

Williams has been very open and honest about his medical condition, for which there is no current cure. He has made it a point to constantly communicate with his players, keeping them updated on the realities of his fight. In terms of the future, multiple plans are already in place. They start with the idea of a stem-cell transplant harvested from Williams' own bone marrow. One of the goals is to pursue that in mid-July with an early August transplant. Should that most successful possibility occur, Williams would likely miss part of the season. Maintenance chemo is another option.     

Looking back and looking ahead, the veteran coach and mentor, who has helped hundreds of prospects reach the next level, has remained concentrated on his players, making their responsibilities a daily priority.  

"The one thing I have tried to do through the process is be crystal-clear transparent. Really almost felt like it was important to include the kids in what was going on so they knew the details," Williams nodded. "So even when I had to separate myself through the off-season program and not be as involved as I've been in the weight room back before we were hoping to go to spring before COVID-19 hit, I would always make a point to swing through there and talk to those guys so they saw me everyday and knew what was going on. And they knew that we were behind them 100%, myself and my staff."

Even without spring football or an established off-season, the news of Williams' remission has given Georgia Military College great momentum. 

"The guys got the news, I shared it with them, they are all fired up. Now it's like, how soon can be get back and start getting ready for the season? That is what they focused on and that is what I want them to be focused on," Williams continued. "Whatever I'm dealing with, whatever they are doing to help support me...they want me to be well and I get all of that. The focus has got to be on preparing themselves, preparing for opponents, getting ready for all of that."

Williams continues to do what he does best: prepare and lead. The gameplan he is currently devising, from aggressive medical treatment to balanced natural considerations, Williams is limiting himself to less than 20 grams of carbohydrates per day, is complete and comprehensive. You wouldn't expect anything less. He, boosted by the support of both his team and his community, is relentlessly training for all that awaits.

"This is a rare cancer. This is a cancer that is not curable at this point. I plan on being the first one, setting the standard there and leading the charge," he smiled. "Whatever it takes as we go through all of this."

Still recovering physically and mentally, Williams is doing so as a man on a mission.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports