Father of four playing college football with his son at age 44

Posted: Thursday, November 20, 2003

JACKSON, Tenn. Joey Williams was so sore after football practice he couldn't get out of bed the next morning.

Squeezed into a twin bed in a dorm room, the 6-foot-3, 290-pound man needed help. So he called over to his teammate and roommate his 21-year-old son Kyle.

''Some mornings my son, he would laugh at me. I'd say, 'Kyle, you need to come tickle the bottom of my feet. I'm paralyzed. I can't feel from the neck down,''' said Williams, who at 44 years old may be the oldest player in college football.

What started out as a middle-aged man's dream has turned out better than he could have imagined. The third-team offensive guard will play with his son Saturday for Lambuth (9-2) when they visit Dickinson State (10-0) in the first round of the NAIA playoffs.

''It's an experience I'll never forget as long as I live,'' Williams said.

Of all the records kept in college football, oldest player isn't recorded by the NCAA or the NAIA. Williams thinks he and his son may certainly be the oldest ever to play together, which he has submitted to the Guinness World Book of Records.

''I could not have done it without him,'' Williams said of his son. ''He'd tell me things like, 'Dad, everybody's hurting,' and I'd say, 'Kyle, is everyone hurting as bad as me?' I don't know if he's lying, but he said yes.''

Until January 2002, Joey Williams was a 340-pound couch potato who did nothing more active than rake his lawn and walk between his car and his office at Tom Lawler's Inc. Office Outfitters.

He thought his chance to play college ball ended in 1976 when he was a high school senior and tore every ligament in his left knee. Instead, he got an associate's degree in engineering, married his high school sweetheart and had four children.

Then eldest son Kyle started playing football first at the same middle school his father had attended, then at the same high school. Once at Lambuth, Williams couldn't stop watching his son practice.

''I was there all the time, and I really knew that's what I wanted to do,'' he said.

He posted his goal on the refrigerator Aug. 6, 2003, the first day of practice and asked Kyle for permission to try out for the team, even though his son didn't take him seriously at first.

''He could've told me he was going to quit and become a department store Santa, and I'd say, 'Right. Whatever you want to do Joey,''' Kyle said.

First, Joey cut back from a whole box of cookies to a half box at a sitting and started taking walks around the block. Within three months, he was walking and running, eventually doing up to six miles a day and an occasional aerobics class.

He finally called Lambuth coach Vic Wallace, whose first thought was that Williams had an idea to raise money for the booster club.

''I said 'Go for it.' I looked at it as being something that's really neat, an opportunity for a father to participate on the same team as his son and vice versa,'' Wallace said.

A doctor told Williams he needed to lose weight. He dropped to 256 pounds and suddenly needed muscle. Daughter Allison's bedroom became a weight room while she was away at college, and his other daughters helped him run faster by working with him at a local track.

At the offensive linemen's conditioning drills, Williams beat kids half his age.

But after seven days, he called his wife, Susan, ready to quit. His muscles hurt so much he had to walk his fingers up his chest to reach his head.

He gave it one more chance. He read the 23rd Psalm before walking onto the dewy practice field, and when he turned to look at the rising sun he noticed a single set of footprints.

''The Lord has been carrying me all these times. ... I've had bad physical days, but I haven't had a bad mental day since then,'' Williams said.

Teammates nicknamed him ''Dirty Joey'' for using leg whips and cut blocks that were legal when he last played. But tight end Tim LeBeau said Williams has helped them appreciate football even more.

''Anybody who cares so much about it they would come back after all this, ... it kind of makes you think it's something special,'' LeBeau said.

Joey played his first game Aug. 30 at Kentucky Wesleyan. Teammates still remind him of the tears running down his face. He has played in most games, and once got landed on by his son when they were blocking side-by-side.

''I laid there for five seconds and wouldn't get up,'' Kyle recalled. ''He said, 'Kyle get up.' And I said, 'You need to enjoy this.'''

It hasn't been easy because to play football, Williams had to be a full-time student, taking at least 12 hours of classes.

His wife has helped out at the family business while he attends classes, practices, studies film and squeezes in at least four hours a day at the office.

Williams will turn 45 in January and likely won't return to Lambuth as a player because Kyle will be graduating. But Wallace has offered him a job as a volunteer coach.

''I'm not bragging on myself. It takes guts to do something. When you develop the power to do something and you do it and achieve it, you lean back and say 'Bring on the next problem,''' he said.

''I just don't see problems as problems anymore.''

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