‘They’re The Ones That Are Doing It’

By John Frierson
Staff Writer

It doesn’t feel like that long ago Kendell-Williams was starring for Georgia’s track and field program. From 2014-17, she won every NCAA Indoor pentathlon national championship—the first person to ever win four in a row—and from 2015-17, she won three straight NCAA Outdoor titles in the heptathlon.

Williams is, without question, one of the greatest student-athletes in Georgia history. Now, after placing fifth in the heptathlon at the Tokyo Olympics last summer, she’s in graduate school and working in the athletic department as a grad assistant in the development office.

“Sometimes it does feel like a really long time ago, but at other times it feels like I was just there yesterday,” said Williams, a two-time Olympian who last month won a bronze medal in the pentathlon at the indoor world championships in Serbian. “Sometimes I can’t believe that 2017, when I graduated from undergrad, was now years and years ago.”

As a student-athlete, Williams said, she knew that the money for her scholarship came from somewhere, and she knew that the money for the Indoor Athletic Facility — Williams spoke on behalf of the student-athletes at the groundbreaking ceremony — came from somewhere , but she didn’t know what went into raising that money.

“It’s cool to now work behind the scenes and see how all of that is made possible,” Williams said. “I’m getting to talk to the donors that are contributing just for the good of our student-athletes and donating to sports that they love and just for the advancement of UGA athletics. I think it’s cool to be on this side of it because as a student-athlete I never really knew where it was coming from.

“It’s been really interesting to see the process and get to know the people that are really making a difference in UGA athletics.”

During the 2021-22 seasons, Georgia has 552 student-athletes. As we on National Student-Athlete Day celebrate them and all of the work they put in on and off the field, court, track and elsewhere, we also celebrate the many former Georgia student-athletes that work within the UGA Athletic Association to help bring out the best in our current Bulldogs.

There are more than 40 former Bulldogs working in a variety of jobs within the Georgia athletic department, from head coaches like Kirby Smart (football) to Deputy Athletic Director stephanie ransom (Georgia’s first All-American soccer player), to men’s tennis which has three former players coaching the team in head coach Manuel Diazassociate head coach Jamie Hunt and volunteer assistant Will Reynolds.

With the recent hiring of former Lady Bulldog Katie Abrahamson-Henderson as the new women’s basketball coach, six of Georgia’s head coaches are former UGA student-athletes: Smart, Abrahamson-Henderson, Diaz, jack bauerle (swimming and diving), Courtney Kupets Carter (gymnastics) and jeff wallace (women’s tennis). Bauerle, Diaz and Wallace have been coaching their respective teams for more than 30 years each and have won multiple national championships.

Robert Miles arrived at Georgia as a walk-on football player in the late 1970s, earned a scholarship, and was a starting defensive end on the Bulldogs’ 1980 national championship team. In his decades working in the athletic department, from serving as an Assistant Athletic Director and working in academic counseling to his current role as Director of the CHAMPS/Life Skills Program, he has served Georgia’s current student-athletes in a variety of ways.

Thousands have also seen multiple generations of Bulldogs wear the red and black, go through the ups and downs of being a student-athlete, and grow as people, students and athletes during their time at Georgia. When Miles bumped into former Georgia wide receiver and current passing game coordinator Bryan McClendon the other day, he said, he immediately thought of Bryan’s father, Willie, who was a great Bulldog running back and the 1978 SEC Player of the Year.

“Willie was a great teammate and a good friend of mine,” Miles said. “I often see and work with the children or grandchildren of former student-athletes, and it’s very humbling to be in my position and to have those fond remembrances and have those relationships with first-generation, second-generation and even third-generation student -athletes.”

Like all Georgia staff members, Miles strives to build relationships with student-athletes that extend well past their time competing for the Bulldogs.

“One of our former student-athletes recently sent me a picture to show me that she’s expecting a child,” he said. “That was like, wow, this is something else. You get something like that and you’re like, I’m glad I meant something to her where she even thought of me when she first found out that she’s starting a family. I feel like I’m part of her family.”

Ray Lamb was not only a great high school football coach in the state of Georgia, he also worked with the UGA football program as coordinator of high school relations for nearly 20 years. Now, his granddaughter Lyndi Rae Davis is a freshman on the Georgia softball team.

“I saw him the other day and he’s all giddy because his granddaughter is up here playing softball,” Miles said.

For Davis, who grew up in an extended family filled with football players and coaches, she likes that she’s gone her own way and wound up playing softball at Georgia.

“It’s kind of cool, though, because I’m the first female in my family to be a Division I athlete,” she said during a Quick Chat earlier this season. “They’re all football players and they all did a good job, and it’s kind of cool to have my own path in the world of softball.”

Stephanie Williams-Moreno was a 28-time All-American swimmer at Georgia, helping the women’s program win NCAA titles in 1999, 2000 and 2001. Since returning to the program as a coach a decade ago, now serving as an associate head coach, Williams Moreno has helped guide the women to three more NCAA crowns, in 2013, ’14 and ’16.

As a coach, Williams Moreno just wants to see Georgia’s men and women do the best they can in everything they do.

“I always tell the kids ‘Comparison is the thief of joy, so don’t compare yourself with other people. You just go out there and do your best, and whatever happens, happens,'” she said.

And when they reach or exceed their goals, it’s a wonderful and often emotional experience.

“It is a roller-coaster of emotions. And when they do win titles or get (personal records) or make an A final instead of a B final, you just feel so proud for them. We create that environment for them but they’ re the ones that are doing it,” Williams Moreno said.

“You’re like a parent to the 60 of them that we have and when they’re able to do amazing things, you just kind of stand a little bit taller.”

Kendell-Williams‘ time working in development wraps up this week. She’s moving down to Jacksonville, Fla., to train with her former Georgia coach, Petros Kyprianou, for this summer’s big competitions. She will return to Athens in the fall to finish up her master’s degree in public relations.

She came to Georgia with modest expectations and became a seven-time NCAA champion, a winner of the Honda Sports Award in 2017 as the nation’s best female track and field competitor, and competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics after her junior year, her experience as a Bulldog student-athlete went miles and miles beyond anything she ever imagined.

“I had a really great time at Georgia. I met a lot of great people, both athletes and people who were working in UGA athletics, and I’ve gotten to do some really cool things,” she said. “I had an incredible time, an incredible four-and-a-half years as a student-athlete there.

“I wish I could go back and relive it over and over again. I’d probably live it the same exact way just because I enjoyed it so much. That’s why it’s been really cool to now work a little bit in athletics because they’ ve given so much to me and it’s kind of my little repayment if I could ever give anything back close to what Georgia gave to me.”
 

Assistant Sports Communications Director John Frierson is the staff writer for the UGA Athletic Association and curator of the ITA Men’s Tennis Hall of Fame. You can find his work by him at: Frierson Files. He’s also on Twitter: @FriersonFiles and @ITAHallofFame.

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