By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
PEARISBURG, Va. — The head football coach at Giles has changed. Everything else has remained the same.
Jeff Williams won’t have it any other way.
“We don’t want to change anything, what Coach (Steve) Ragsdale has established here is proven,” said Williams, who replaced Ragsdale as head coach of the Spartans after last season. “It works and it is successful and we pretty much told them, ‘Boys, no radical changes.’”
Ragsdale is a legend in Giles County, leading the Spartans to numerous district and regional titles and a trio of state championships. Williams knows he’s following in a huge shadow.
“Really I am, what Coach Ragsdale has done, not just for the football program, but for this school and this community is overwhelming,” said Williams, a 14-year assistant under Ragsdale at Giles, who spent the previous five years working with Don Lowe at Narrows. “What he has accomplished over 30 years of coaching, and now me being the head football coach, I am stepping into some big shoes. That’s expected.”
Williams figured Ragsdale would be around for a while longer until he was approached one day with a question.
“It was a surprise that it came this early,” Williams said. “We were hoping he could go at least five more years, but he just came up to me one day and asked me if I would be interested in the job and I told him ‘Yeah, sure.’”
Not only did Ragsdale depart, but so did long-time assistants Rusty Kelly and Jack Ellison, not to mention 23 seniors off last year’s team that finished 10-2, losing to George Wythe in the Region C title game.
“We are a young football team, we’re real thin,” said Williams, whose Spartans open the season on Aug. 29 at Blacksburg. “We’ve got 25 kids on the roster, we’ve got two starters on offense and two starters on defense returning from last year and that’s between three kids...We’ve got 11 that return from the actual roster last year.”
Williams has been a part of Giles High School for most of his life. He played for Ragsdale with the Spartans, and was a walk-on at Virginia Tech, playing three years under Bill Dooley and the first season under current mentor Frank Beamer.
“It was just exciting, Tech football hadn’t really taken off has now, but you could tell when Coach Beamer came in that he had a strong vision” said Williams, who was a free safety with the Hokies after playing all three running back positions for Giles. “He had his goals set and what he wanted to accomplish and he got them and right now they’re one of the top football teams in the country.
“He always talked about great things and it kind of worked out really good. I’m glad the school hung in there with him when times were tough so he could get where he wanted to be.”
Even when Williams played at Giles, the Spartans ran Ragsdale’s favored single wing offense. Making the adjustment to college ball wasn’t difficult since he was on the other side of the ball.
“I was on the defensive side of the ball so it wasn’t a big difference, I was probably one of the smallest guys and slowest guys on the team,” said Williams, who, not surprisingly, plans to keep the current system in place. “It was fun, I was a walk-on, I think I might have played in three plays my whole career there.
“In Beamer’s last year I was on the traveling squad so it was real fun and exciting just to be a part of something that is really so big and huge now.”
That’s been much the same at Giles. The Spartans have been a winning machine, claiming at least four straight Three Rivers District titles, along with three consecutive Region C crowns before falling in overtime to the Maroons last year. Giles won state titles in 1980, 1993 and 2005.
Williams isn’t going to guarantee that type of continued success, only that the Giles will still play Spartan football.
“I have no idea, right now we’re just looking ahead to Blacksburg and game one and we’ll take it one week at a time,” said Williams, who does return Cody Journell, an all-around player who has verbally committed to Virginia Tech as a kicker. “I’m not big on setting goals.
“What I like to do is look to the week ahead that is coming up and just work on that week and just go from there.”
Being a head coach has definitely been an eye-opener for Williams, whose second cousin is ultra-successful Richlands coach Greg Mance. In fact, Mance’s wife, Ann, and Williams’s wife are sisters.
“It’s a lot more work involved,” said Williams, whose previous head coaching experience was with the varsity boys track team. “Usually as an assistant coach you don’t have to do a lot of thinking about things and schemes.
“You’re concentrating on one area, but as a head coach, you’re just overwhelmed with everything and there is a lot of things going on.”
Williams has prepared for this moment for much of the last two decades. He’s still a great admirer of Ragsdale, and that won’t ever change.
“I’m a prodigy of Coach Ragsdale,” Williams said. “I really believe in the way he did things and how he did things and I think of all the things he did and I truly believe in him.
“I think that is probably the key. He is such a great coach and I think I am just fortunate enough having worked under him for so many years.”
The Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The Bluefield Daily Telegraph
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