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Judson football coach feeling effects of COVID-19 on different fronts

Rodney Williams is seeing the pandemic wreak havoc on the Rockets' athletic program and the daycare/learning center he runs with his wife.
Credit: David Flores / Kens5.com
Rodney Williams led Judson to the Class 6A Division I state quarterfinals and a 12-2 finish in his first season as the Rockets' head coach last year.

SAN ANTONIO — Judson football coach Rodney Williams is in the same boat with high school coaches across the state, if not the country, since the outbreak of the coronavirus forced the shutdown of schools.

Williams hasn't seen his players since March 6, the last Friday before the start of spring break, and there's no telling when Judson students will return to classes on campus.

Williams' upbeat disposition has served him well while he's navigated his way through the uncharted waters of trying to put together a team amid a pandemic.

While the start of high school football workouts is still five months away, the offseason is a critical time for coaches to develop players physically and mentally.

"We're trying to stay sane," Williams said Sunday. "We're trying to keep ourselves occupied somehow, some way. It's been tough because we're not in school, but it is what it is.

"We've just got to keep doing what they tell us, and stay in touch with our kids. I know they're tired of being at home, but they understand why all this is being done. It's all about keeping people safe."

The scourge of COVID-19 also has dealt a blow to two daycare/learning centers Williams owns with his wife, Rhonda.

"With more people working from home, our numbers are dwindling," said Williams, who is also Judson's boys athletic coordinator. "We're considered essential, so we don't have to close down. But I can't make people bring their kids to our place. We're trying to stay open without having to lay people off. It's crazy."

Credit: Courtesy Photo
Judson football coach Rodney Williams with his eldest of three children, Keely, a sophomore outfielder on the Rockets' softball team.

Brighter Futures Learning Center, open to children from 6 weeks to 12 years old, has about 70 employees at its locations in Schertz and Cibolo.   

With all schools in Texas closed, all interscholastic sports are being affected by COVID-19.

"I know I'm not alone," Williams, 46, said. "Everybody is facing challenges."

The sports being hit hardest, of course, are the ones in season, including soccer, softball, track and baseball. Williams' oldest of three children, Keely, is a sophomore on the Judson softball team.

Although Keely is not expected to play this season while she recovers from surgery on her right labrum, Keely has stayed close to her teammates.

"All the athletes at Judson are just frustrated with all this because, really, all the spring sports, we were just beginning our season and some teams weren't even in district yet," Keely said. "We're frustrated because we can't work out as a team. We can't see each other at practice."

Coached by Theresa Urbanovsky, the Judson softball team was 13-5 overall and 2-0 in District 26-6A play when the season was suspended.

"Coach Urby keeps up with us every day, tells us, 'Good morning. How are you all,'" Keely said. "She keeps us updated with everything going on. She tries to make sure we're working out and trying to stay in shape."

Credit: Courtesy Photo
New Judson head football coach Rodney Williams and his wife, Rhonda, with their three children Keely, left to right, Kamryn and Kaden, after the Judson ISD announced Williams' hiring.

Keely's daily routine is centered around online classes and working out early in the evening with her father and brother, Kaden, an eighth-grader, in the family garage.

"It's a different way of living," Keely said. "Basically, I'm just trying to adapt to it. It does get boring, but I'm finding new ways to stay in shape. I'm looking at the SAT (college entrance exam), trying to get ahead. Get ready for that."

Keely's thoughts about the coronavirus and its impact have evolved since the first day she stayed home from school.

"I thought the quarantine was just a little joke," Keely said. "I still wanted to go hang out with my friends, but once I got a bigger picture of what was going on, I saw things differently.

"If I left the house and went around people that had the coronavirus, that could jeopardize a lot of things that are going on in my family. Like the daycare could shut down, or we could all get sick. I can still communicate with my friends through my phone and facetime.

As passionate as she is about softball, Kelly said COVID-19 has given her a new perspective on athletics and their place in her life.

"Sports is just sports," she said. "It's a way to escape reality. To me, sports is not a job. It's like having fun, something I enjoy doing. If I have to get away from that for a short period of time, it's OK because I still have a life to live."

Credit: Miguel Esparza / Special to KENS5.com
Judson running back De'Anthony Lewis, who rushed for 1,864 yards and 27 touchdowns as a junior last year, is among the Rockets' returnees in 2020.

An asthmatic, Rodney Williams is well aware of the danger the coronavirus poses for people with respiratory problems. He takes medication for his asthma daily and always has his two different types of inhalers handy.

"I know it's serious," Williams said of COVID-19.

Otherwise in excellent physical condition, Williams is raring to go and be around his players and coaches again. Until then, Rockets co-defensive coordinator Jason Wagner, who's in charge of the strength and conditioning program, will continue working out the kids through the wonders of technology.

"We have a team app," Williams said. "Practically the whole team is on the app. Jason started posting workouts as soon as we found out we couldn't go back to school. I've got all the captains' numbers and I talk to them often. I've also got Twitter.

"We have Google Classroom, so we put all the workouts on Google Classroom, too. I'll check up on some of them to make sure they're doing the workouts. I've told the kids that when we get back, it's going to be a full sprint to the start of the season. They're going to have to be ready. I told them I'm not going to wait for them to get in shape."

Judson has six starters returning each way from a team that went 12-2 overall and 6-1 in district play in its first season under Williams. The Rockets lost to Austin Lake Travis in the Class 6A Division I state quarterfinals.

Formerly Judson's offensive coordinator, Williams was named interim head coach May 7, three weeks after Sean McAuliffe resigned.

Williams, who has coached at Judson since 2012, is the first African American head football coach in the Rockets' storied history.