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In the dead of winter, Elizabethtown football coach Adam Billings ran into Louisville St. Xavier coach Will Wolford at baggage claim at Louisville International Airport. Little did the two know at the time they would soon be working together.
“He coincidentally made a comment of, ‘Hey, when are you coming back to Louisville,’” Billings, a St. Xavier alum, recalled of the airport conversation in January. “I thought, ‘Coach, I’m at E’town, man. We’re busting our butts and doing things right, but I don’t see myself as being needed there (at St. Xavier). But if you need anything, let me know. Shoot, you guys are St. X. You’re at the top. Just keep working hard.’”
Since that time, Wolford had been working hard to get Billings on the staff alongside the former NFL veteran offensive lineman. Wolford informed Billings of a teaching and coaching opening March 1.
After three seasons at Elizabethtown, Billings informed his Panthers after school Thursday he had accepted a math teaching position at St. Xavier and will be the varsity offensive line coach and junior varsity head coach.
“I thought I would be negligent to at least listen to what they had to say,” Billings said. “I owed it to myself. I owed it to my family. Heck, I owed it to St. X. If I’m somebody they need, that’s my school and I need to make sure we’re doing things right there.
“But it was just one of those things when we first started talking, I didn’t want to leave (Elizabethtown),” Billings added. “I wasn’t champing at the bit and ready to high-tail it out of here.”
Billings isn’t leaving any time soon, as Elizabethtown principal Steve Smallwood said Billings will continue to teach Algebra I and geometry through the end of the school year.
Smallwood said Billings will lead spring practice if the Panthers want him to and if a new coach isn’t in place in time.
“Adam has been a great asset to Elizabethtown High School and he’s always done what we’ve asked him to do and has been willing to help out any way he can,” Smallwood said. “He’s molded our young men to develop a work ethic to help them to help them succeed.”
Now Wolford is ready for Billings to help St. Xavier players succeed.
“We pursued him to see if there was any interest and it took a couple of months going back and forth. And in the past few months I’ve gotten to know him better,” Wolford said. “I love that he has roots at St. X High School. I’m partial to offensive linemen and offensive line coaches and that’s certainly his forte. But he’s a big fella like myself, he knows how hard the head coach’s job is and he knows what the program at St. X is all about.”
While Wolford saw similarities between the coaches – St. Xavier ties, big builds, former offensive linemen – Billings said the two men’s commons traits end there.
“Big might be where it ends,” Billings said. “He’s a great guy and he had a 13-plus year NFL career. So it’s an honor to be able to get in there and work with his guys and learn from them. I didn’t even really think about the ‘big’ aspect to be honest with you, but I guess it’s an offensive linemen thing and we’re a rare breed. You can call me big and ugly, but I’m not about to call him ugly. It’s an offensive line thing and we stick together. We do our part on the buffet line, but we also do our part on the field.”
Billings was 7-26 in three seasons with the Panthers. He was 0-11 in his inaugural season in 2011 before going 1-10 in 2012 and 6-5 last season.
“When I got hired, there were three things they wanted: They wanted a presence in the building, they wanted me to increase numbers and they wanted our kids to do things right,” Billings said.
Billings was 3-for-3.
He worked inside the school after taking the job when some previous Elizabethtown coaches did not work in the high school.
After having just 27 players suit up for a playoff game his first season, Billings said the school will have to order extra jerseys this season because he expects almost 70 players to be on the roster. He said 50 players attended Monday’s weightlifting session.
In addition to going through building delays for the turf stadium which opened last season, Billings helped turn the program around in the classroom and attitude-wise with fewer problems and suspensions.
“The kids are doing things right,” Billings said. “I set the bar high, but the kids stepped up to the bar.”
One of those kids, sophomore Jack Wilson, appreciates the hard work and time Billings put in with the players.
“Coach and I had a good relationship together and he really bonded with the team. His first two years he didn’t have much talent to work with and had to build the program back to where it was in the past,” said Wilson, who played linebacker and quarterback this past season. “He really got close to the team in the offseason last year and started to become a father figure to us. He made us believe in ourselves that if we worked hard in the summer, there would be big outcomes in the regular season.”
Wilson said he doesn’t hold any ill will toward Billings on what the player said was a great opportunity for his former coach.
“It’s gonna be tough not having him next season,” Wilson said. “St. X is a lucky team to get a good coach that’s gonna make them work their hardest.”
Nathaniel Bryancan be reached at 270-505-1758 or firstname.lastname@example.org