At age 41 and still very much active at Georgia Military College, Bert Williams got a little worried when the hall of fame came calling.
"I joked with the generals if they knew something I didn't know," said Williams. "You don't usually get these things until you're gone. It was a bit of a surprise because I'm still active."
In his 14th season in Milledgeville, Ga. -- 11 as head coach and athletic director -- Williams will be honored at halftime of Saturday's game against Southeast Prep Academy for his induction into the National Junior College Athletic Association football Hall of Fame.
There is nothing premature in the honor bestowed on the Augusta native and former star quarterback at Westside High. During his tenure at Georgia Military, Williams has improved the lives of hundreds of young men searching for direction while also making the Bulldogs one of the most successful junior college programs in the nation.
"With Bert it's more than coaching," said his father, Pete Williams. "He gets a heckuva enjoyment by taking the kids he gets and changing their lives."
GMC is 85-26 under Williams since he took over for Robert Nunn in 2000, which ranks as the third best winning percentage in the country. That success includes the 2001 national championship as well as runner-up finishes in 2002 and 2005. Those achievements are good to show off to recruits, but Williams' success is measured in other statistics.
In the last decade GMC has placed more than 150 student-athletes into Division I and I-AA schools -- more than any other junior college program in the country. Under Williams' guidance, 47 GMC student athletes have been named as All-Americans and 21 have made it as far as the NFL.
"Ninety-five percent of the guys who come here are here because they weren't successful academically," said Williams. "And to go on to these four-year colleges they have to change that. I'm proudest of the fact that we have put more of them in Division I and I-AA than any other junior college."
"Bert's role in these players' lives is very different than most coaches," said his mother, Cathy. "I think it means a lot to him that he's involved with them personally. And all the kids that make it through, they are very appreciative."
The kids he coaches and Georgia Military College have changed Williams' life as well. When he first arrived in Milledgeville in 1997 as offensive coordinator, he expected it to be a temporary stepping stone to a bigger opportunity.
"I did not expect to be here 14 years," said Williams, who started his coaching career at Georgia as a graduate assistant working four years on Ray Goff's staff. "I felt like it was a job I needed to take for two or three years and make contacts."
Williams was certainly influenced by the GMC coaching legend Lew Cordell, who despite repeated opportunities to leave for supposed greener playing fields ended up staying for 32 years.
"I'd sit down with my wife and write down the pluses and minuses," the late Cordell once told Williams. "I never could come up with enough pluses to make me leave here."
Through the years Williams has considered several offers, but like Cordell before him, the pluses for leaving have yet to outweigh the minuses. With strong school and community support, a comfortable family lifestyle and the reward of profoundly affecting young men, Williams keeps sticking with GMC.
"To be able to kind of set your roots in and have a family life, that was enticing," Williams said. "I have the good fortune of being choosy. My career goal was to be a college history professor. It may not be history, but it's still teaching. And I have even more of an impact on these kids."
Perhaps Williams was predisposed to accepting a less glamorous path. He was recruited to Davidson as a quarterback, but became a starting offensive tackle.
"Ain't many quarterbacks that could or would do that," said his father.
Williams won't lie and say the lure of being part of a big-time college program isn't still in the back of his mind sometimes.
He's in the business of preparing kids for success at the next level, and it prepares him as well.
If the right opportunity ever comes along to entice him away, Williams can leave knowing he gave everything he had to the program and his players at Georgia Military College.
He has the NJCAA Hall of Fame plaque to prove it.
"I'm humbled and honored that my peers think enough of me to vote me in," Williams said.