In Focus: For the Love of the Game
Josh Williford Embraces New Role as Student Coach
Senior offensive lineman Josh Williford’s suffered his third concussion in three years during training camp practice in August 2013. A few days later, he learned his football career was over.
Williford said the athletic training staff told him the possibilities of what could happen if he continued to play. That’s when he decided he was done playing football.
Football had always been a part of his life, but he said at some point – whether he was 28 or 40 – he would have to “hang up his cleats.” Williford said he didn’t want to put himself at risk of having long-term side effects after he was done playing.
“You don’t want that next hit to be the one that causes lifetime side effects,” he said.
Williford said concussions are a unique type of injury. He’s read about people who’ve had concussions that caused them to have headaches up to a year after their injury. He also said doctors can’t fix a brain like they can fix a torn ACL or a broken hand.
“College football is five years of my life,” he said. “I’ve got a long life after this, hopefully, and I just don’t want side effects from concussions for the rest of my life … You get one brain and the last time I checked you gotta have it.”
Although Williford’s time as an LSU player had come to an end, his tenure with LSU football team wasn’t over quite yet.
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Days after the career-ending injury, head coach Les Miles presented Williford with the opportunity to stay with the Tigers for his senior year as a student coach. Williford said the idea of student coaching didn’t cross his mind before, but he wanted to be a part of the team in any way possible.
“I was going to try to be a part of the team in any way,” he said. “Whether it was an equipment manager or filling the water bottles. It’s something I started as a freshman. These are guys I grew up with for five years and I didn’t want to leave them hanging.”
In his new role, Williford focuses on helping offensive line coach Greg Studrawa and serves as an extra pair of eyes. He would have been in a similar leadership role this season as the lone returning senior on the offensive line.
“As a senior, you do a lot of coaching as it is,” he said. “I can help with another guy that (LSU offensive line) Coach (Greg) Studrawa may have missed, help with his technique and show him how to make a better block.”
Sophomore offensive lineman Trai Turner replaced Williford on the offensive line when he suffered the concussion in the 2012 Florida game that sidelined him for the rest of that season.
The two have a close relationship; Williford calls Turner his little brother. Turner said because of their close relationship, Williford’s role is less of a coach and more of an adviser.
Turner said Williford hasn’t changed much despite his transition to a student coach. He still kids and delivers corny jokes.
Though removed from the field, Turner said Williford is still part of the offensive lineman unit in spirit.
“I think he not only lives through me, but through the whole offensive line,” Turner said. “He feels like he’s out there playing through us in a way.”
Due to the nature and abruptness of Williford’s injury, Turner said the entire offensive line never forgets what happened and uses Williford’s injury as motivation to play each game 100 percent.
“It’s always in the back of our mind that we can’t take any week for granted because it can always be taken away from us,” Turner said. “It’s been shown to us it’s not guaranteed. We need to go out there each week and play our hardest.”
Prior to this experience, Williford said he never thought he’d be coaching, however he takes full advantage of the opportunity. But he said he feels bad when he screams at players.
“I didn’t think I could ever yell at somebody,” Williford said. “I proved myself wrong as a student coach. I go to bed at night, and I’m like ‘dang, I’m really that guy.’”
For Williford, one of the biggest differences from being a player versus a student coach is that he can’t show the players how to do something – he can only tell them. He also has a love-hate relationship to his new position during game time.
He loves that he’s with the team, but hates not being on the field. Williford also said the environment is completely different on the field than on the sidelines.
“I love it that I’m part of the team,” Williford said. “Tiger Stadium. Saturday night. There’s nothing better. Just to be able to be on the sidelines is great, but when you’re on the field it’s completely different.”