ETBU Alum Joe Willis Coaches His Team To A State Championship Titleby Mike Midkiff
MARSHALL, Texas (1/28/13)- When Joe Willis stepped on campus at East Texas Baptist University in the late 1980’s he had dream of playing baseball for the Tigers. Unfortunately, an injury kept Willis from fulfilling that dream but a new one emerged, to become a coach. Since graduating from ETBU, he has been living out his dream each day.
Willis, in his first year as the head football coach at Cedar Park High School, led his Timberwolves to the Class 4A Division II state football championship title this past December. What was the former Tiger thinking when the clock hit zero and his team defeated Lancaster, 17-7, at Cowboys Stadium winning CPHS first ever state football championship?
"The best thing for me was the feeling of the relief that comes with the completion of a task. I really enjoyed watching our players and coaches and their excitement and interaction with each other as they realized that we had finished our journey,” shared Willis. "I was truly awestruck as I watched them laugh and cry tears of joy. My next thought was to find my wife and kids and hug and hold them for a while.”
Willis and his wife, Amber, have been married since 1996. Three years ago they adopted three children, Bradley (9) and Daniel (5), who are brothers, and Malia (3). They have been advocates in their church, Austin Stone Community Church, for couples who want to adopt. "My children are the Timberwolves #1 fans. Bradley frequents the sidelines and plays the game within the game with his buddies who are ball-boys for us. Danny and Malia know just how to find me after the game ends.”
While a senior at ETBU, Willis became involved in the work of the Student Foundation which assists the University in its promotional and fundraising efforts. Willis was part of an effort which approached the administration about adding football.
"There was actually a big push from 1990 on to add football,” Willis said. "At the time there were issues with housing and facilities that made it impossible, but I believe that those years were an important part of getting football back. At least we planted the seed through our discussion.” ETBU brought football back to campus after a 50 year absence in 2000.
"I originally came to ETBU to play baseball, but while on campus, my focus turned to obtaining an education degree,” Willis said. The former Tarkington High School athlete earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Education in 1992. He was drawn to the campus after making a visit to watch a baseball game. "I stayed on campus that weekend and decided ETBU was what I was looking for in a university. It seemed like home.”
Willis has 19 years of experience coaching football in Texas. He was named the head coach at Cedar Park last May after serving five years as assistant head coach and defensive coordinator for the Timberwolves.
He replaced Chris Ross who was promoted to the Athletic Director for Leander Independent School District, who hired Willis to replace him.
Willis chose coaching as a career because he wanted to contribute to providing a positive and meaningful experience for the athletes he would coach. "It has always been important to me to win, but more importantly, to win with cause and sacrifice,” remarked Willis. "I believe the model that Christ provided us is one of adoption and altruism. It has been my career goal to coach with a purpose that exemplifies both these qualities that my Lord afforded me.”
The Cleveland, Texas native is not the only alumnus to coach a team to a state football championship title. Current Carthage High School athletic director/head football coach Scott Surratt, who graduated from ETBU in 1990, has three (2008, 2009, 2010) Class 3A state football championship trophies in the case at Carthage High School.
The 2012 Class 4A Division II state championship coach has advice for anyone wanting to make coaching a career. "I can’t think of any other profession that is more rewarding than molding the hearts and minds of young people,” stressed Willis. "If God has giving you the ability to encourage and the vision to create; coaching can be a great avenue to fulfill His work through you.”
Willis added, "It is a work of passion and patience, but if you focus on the big picture, your life will be full of ‘wins’.”