Bert Williams, head football coach and athletic director at Georgia Military College, announced recently that he has been diagnosed with cancer.
The news came following an annual checkup that revealed an elevated white blood cell count. After a re-check and other testing, the diagnosis of mantle cell lymphoma was handed down just over a month ago on Dec. 5. The longtime GMC head football coach made that diagnosis public last week on his personal Facebook page just before chemotherapy treatment began at Emory Hospital in Atlanta over the weekend. He was admitted short-term for the initial treatment, but will continue on an outpatient basis as long as everything goes smoothly.
“I feel pretty good so far,” Williams told The Union-Recorder in a Monday phone interview. “The first round went pretty well.”
Monday morning Williams was back in his office on the GMC campus busy doing normal offseason program work that includes, as he put it, “recruiting our butts off,” referring to himself and his coaching staff. He spent a portion of his December on the road telling college football hopefuls about the opportunities a JC program like GMC’s provides.
“I’m going to work as close to 100 percent as I possibly can,” said Williams.
In November, Coach Williams completed his 20th season at the helm of GMC football, one that saw his team finish 8-3 and ranked 12th in the final NJCAA poll. In his 20 years he has led the ‘Dogs to one NJCAA National Championship (2001) and two other national title games (2002 and 2013). Williams is the winningest GMC football coach all-time after having overtaken former head coach Lew Cordell in 2014. The Augusta, Ga. native obtained his 150th coaching victory this past season and stands second among active NJCAA coaches in terms of wins. Countless Bulldogs who played under Williams have gone on to finish their college careers at four-year schools and many made it a step further into the National Football League. Williams played his college football at Davidson College in North Carolina before starting his career as a coach on the University of Georgia staff from 1990 until 1993. He came to GMC as the offensive coordinator in 1997 and took over the program a couple years later.
Williams’ opponent is mantle cell lymphoma, a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) that accounts for only about 6 percent of all NHL cases in the United States, according to the Lymphoma research foundation. Lymphoma occurs when immune system cells grow and multiply at an uncontrollable rate.
Since announcing his illness, the GMC head coach said the outpouring of support has been huge.
“There’s been a lot of support, a lot of prayers and a lot of well-wishes,” Williams said. “It’s been very encouraging to hear from so many people. The support of the GMC family has been unbelievable from the kids in the prep school to my players and all the staff and faculty. Everybody’s just been absolutely fantastic in their support and offers of help. It’s real, and it’s appreciated.”
Among those helping Williams in the current fight are his wife Cathy and two sons Parker and Zach, both GMC Prep graduates. Meanwhile, the coach will continue doing what he has done in the past at this time each year, recruit the next crop of Bulldog talent and soon turn his attention to spring football practice.
“My wife will probably be dragging me out to go home and get some rest,” Williams said with a laugh. “I just love what I do, so I'm going to be in here doing as absolutely much of it as I can from now until I get done with this treatment.”
A webpage has been set up on the site Caring Bridge where Coach Williams will provide updates. That page can be found at www.caringbridge.org/visit/bertwilliams2.