Making a difference: Juan Williams is recognized by the AHSAA for his impact at LaFayette High School

Published 5:23 pm Tuesday, May 28, 2024

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Coaching is often defined by wins, championships and statistics, but some coaches go beyond just the product on the field. The AHSAA recognized seven such individuals with the Making a Difference Award. LaFayette athletic director and coach Juan Williams was recognized for the award in 2A for his ability to go above and beyond over the past year. 

LaFayette High School has overcome a plethora of obstacles in athletics and throughout the community. Williams was there leading the charge this year and helped both students and faculty overcome these challenges, and the recognition for his efforts means the world. 

“It means a lot,” Williams said. “It’s a humbling experience. When you get an award like that, it’s really about the people around you and what they’re doing. We have a great staff, principal and leadership. I’m really just thankful for all the people who helped with this. There are a lot of teachers every day who make a difference in a lot of kids’ lives. I’m blessed to receive the reward, but it’s a lot more than me.” 

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Williams is not from LaFayette, but anybody who has spoken with Williams would be hard-pressed to know that. 

Williams arrived as LaFayette’s football coach and athletic director in 2020, and he has grown to love the community and the school during that time. Williams believes that he was put in LaFayette for a reason and he strives to be a role model for every kid that walks through the hallways at LaFayette High School. 

“I think God puts your feet where they’re supposed to be at,” Williams said. “When you see kids anywhere, you want to help. I had great mentors in my life, so I’m just trying to pay it forward with these kids. I love what I do. When you love what you do, it’s not a job. It’s about showing up and showing out for these kids and giving them the opportunities that someone gave you.” 

Williams took on several different challenges over the past year. Williams has led the football team since 2020, but he also took on the challenge of leading the girls basketball team this year. 

Williams and LaFayette also had to overcome some losses this year. The loss of coach Corey Thorton stung LaFayette High School and the entire community. Thornton and Williams had become closely bonded over the years. The loss of Thorton and all the challenges Williams faced throughout the school year gave him a completely new perspective on life and coaching. 

“The last 10 months have been very humbling for me,” Williams said. “I lost a couple of good people in my life, and it just shows you that life is short. Try to do right by people. Tomorrow is not promised. Take care of yourself, that’s one of the things that as coaches sometimes we don’t do. Live for the moment. I am living today for the moment. Every time I get a chance to do something with these kids, that’s my motivation every day.” 

Williams was one of many coaches and teachers that stepped up this year. Coach Michael Patillo and Williams stepped up to lead the track and field team after Thornton’s passing. 

Williams also saw the community and parents come together to support LaFayette amidst all the turmoil. The ability to overcome all that adversity showed the strength of LaFayette’s program, and Williams and the rest of the leaders at LaFayette High School know there are better days ahead. 

“I have to bow my head to everyone at LaFayette High School,” Williams said. “When something goes down, everybody steps in and gives a hand. We’ve had an all-out push for LaFayette to keep going. We’ve had moms and dads helping, and better things are to come. We’ve gone through a lot of turmoil, but it doesn’t rain every day. There’s better days ahead, and we know that and are better for it.” 

Williams has been in coaching for 22 years now and has head coaching stops on the gridiron at four different high schools in Alabama. Williams has had good and bad seasons, but he hopes at the end of his career his impact off the field will be remembered far more than any win or loss. 

“I just hope some kids can look at me and say he cared for us beyond the field,” Williams said. “It’s all about beyond the field. I had guys and mentors who taught me beyond the field. If anything, what’s been going on over here the past year, just telling kids to love on each other and try to make the best of every situation that is presented to you. Be the best version of you. That’s words for myself.” 

Several athletes stepped up this year as the track team competed at the state meet and the boys basketball team went to the final four. Williams has preached “staying the course” this year, and he believes that the program and the kids have bought into that mantra.