WHITEVILLE — Be true to your school or cheer for your youth minister?
That was the predicament the youth group of First Baptist Church of Whiteville had when Bolivar Central played Jackson Christian on Oct. 11. A senior running back at Jackson Christian, Johnny Williams has been leading the youth group for two months. All the church’s high school students attend the Bolivar school.
Jackson Christian coach Matt Underwood allows Williams, who was all-district, all-region, and All-West Tennessee last season, to leave practice early on Wednesdays to make the 45-minute drive to Whiteville. Williams, 17, also teaches Sunday School and has worship service responsibilities.
“He’s our youth minister and you’ve got to support him,” said Stephen New, a senior at Bolivar. Cayle Pinner, a sophomore who is a Bolivar cheerleader, wanted her team to win. “I’ll be glad if we win but I’ll be happy if Johnny has a good game,” she said.
Williams had a career game as he led Jackson Christian to a 54-32 victory. He scored a career-high five touchdowns, rushed for a career-high 247 yards and had 55 yards on three receptions. He had two kick returns for 18 yards for a total of 320 all-purpose yards. A linebacker on defense, he intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble. He was named The Jackson Sun Player of the Week on Oct. 13.
“I wanted to do good for them,” said Williams.
Jackson Christian quarterback Cedric Hampton said that Williams’ desire to lead a youth group is “something to be praised and honored. There are not many people his age that are sold out and committed to doing the work for the Lord like he does.”
Building relationships with youth — attendance has doubled — is one of the things he’s liked most. “All have been accepting. It helps me to be more accountable to God because of my responsibility. Everybody has told me that they are proud of me,” said Williams.
Among the proudest are grandfathers John Thomas Williams and Pat Parham, both of Jackson. They are former football players and both have instilled Christian principles into their grandson.
The elder Williams, a former successful high school coach, tells his grandson (who is named after him) to set a good Christian example and to be disciplined. “His number one asset is his determination.”
What has made Williams one of West Tennessee’s premier football players has been his work ethic and passion. “He is someone we always look to to practice hard,” said Underwood. “He is a leader by example,” the coach added.
Williams is on the watch list for the Army All-American Bowl and is being recruited to play college football.
Since he began playing football in the fourth grade, Williams’ dream has been to play college football. Underwood said that he can do “great things” in college.
“God has given him that ability and he has worked hard to improve, which I am proud of,” said Underwood.
Williams wants to play at Ole Miss where he has been accepted. He is being recruited by the Air Force Academy and Football Championship Series teams.
He maintains a straight-A average with a 3.88 GPA and plans to major in graphic design. “I am very passionate in whatever I do,” he said.
Football is fourth on his list of priorities, followed by God, family, and friends.
Williams accepted Christ as Savior at the age of 8 at Calvary Baptist Church in Jackson.
“I had an understanding that Jesus was the only way to true happiness. Before that I was sad a lot. I can remember after that day, I felt a lot more relieved about my future and I didn’t worry any more,” he said.
Ephesians 2:8-9 are his favorite verses. “Jesus means everything because He is the focal point of every decision.”
God is key to Williams’ confidence. Since he has been leading the youth group, Williams’ maturity has grown, Underwood said, noting that the players at Jackson Christian look up to him.