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Familiar friends become temporary foes in semifinals

Sweet Water head coach Stacy Luker will look across the field tonight and see one of the people he respects most in the world. The same goes for Linden head coach Andro Williams.

In many ways, the men are almost mirror images of one another. Both run disciplined programs with strong on-field emphasis on the running game and sound defensive play. Each touts the importance of character and demands it from every player who steps onto the football field.

They possess a similar sense of humor and an uncanny ability to breakup intense practice sessions with a well-placed one-liner.

Their similarities run deeper, however. Both seized state title rings at Sweet Water while serving on the coaching staff of their shared alma mater.

“I was his defensive coordinator when he came through,” Luker says of Williams. “We had one of those great player-coach relationships.”

That relationship, which has evolved over the years, continues to remain strong. Luker chuckles as his wife Donna talks of the affinity Williams possesses for her chicken salad. There is an unmistakable camaraderie between the two which clearly reaches through their professional lives.

When Williams moved on to college and prepared for his student teaching, he joined up with Luker again. At the time, Luker was working at Thomasville High School.

When the time came for Williams to graduate, Luker wanted to add him to his staff at Thomasville. However, without a spot to offer his protege, Luker watched as Williams accepted another opportunity at Clarke County.

While in Clarke County, Williams’ trademark work ethic, communication skills and keen mind paid off quickly as he found success early.

“He had been a very successful head basketball coach down there in Clarke County,” Luker says, recounting the story from behind his desk just moments after talking to his players about the game plan he hopes will be good enough to befall Williams’ undefeated Patriots.

The matchup is one that has been on the radars of Marengo County fans since Linden felled Maplesville earlier in the season. However, it is one that may have never happened were it not for the relationship between Luker and Williams.

See, it was the rapport and respect the two share for one another that allowed Luker to contact Williams about being part of his newly-forming coaching staff at Sweet Water in 2002. It was also that relationship that allowed Luker to tell Williams frankly that his reputation as a basketball coach, while admirable and respectable, was still short of his long-time dream of becoming a head football coach.

So Williams took Luker’s offer and headed to Sweet Water to serve as defensive coordinator.

“He did a great job,” Luker says candidly. “I just turned the defense over to him and saw him evolve as a defensive coordinator.”

Together, the two resurrected a long-dead Sweet Water dynasty. Luker tasted state championship glory as a player in 1982 before returning as a defensive coordinator in 1988.

Aside from a 1986 win, the proud program went sans title until 2004 when Luker, with his dynamic, young defensive coordinator in tow, captured another banner for the school that breeds championship-caliber athletes in much the same fashion as Sparta once produced fearsome soldiers. After a setback in 2005, the pair found Super Six achievement again in 2006.

This year’s seniors were sophomores then.

“He’s very intense and he believed a lot in hitting and hard work,” Luker’s son, Tate, a senior on the 2008 Bulldog squad, says of the experience of playing under Williams. “He was just a really intense guy. But it was a lot of fun though.”

Sweet Water senior Damaraquis Williams cut his teeth at the cornerback position under Andro Williams as an eighth-grader in 2004. Andro was high on the young player’s abilities and installed him into a starting position before he even reached high school age.

“It was hard work. He’ll keep you focused and working hard,” Damaraquis says of his former defensive coordinator as he takes a seat on the steps overlooking the football field just long enough to peel the athletic tape from his feet. He and his teammates are minutes removed from a Wednesday morning practice for a game in which they will be called upon to harness their emotions and make another run to Birmingham.