Jul. 6—One of the most distinguished coaches in the Golden Isles has decided to take a step back. Longtime Frederica Academy golf coach Tom Willis recently relinquished his position as the full-time varsity coach.
Two years ago, Willis became one of the rare active coaches inducted into the GISA Hall of Fame when he was awarded the Brent Cribb Distinguished Service Award. Willis has had a hand in each one of the 16 state championships won by the Frederica Academy golf program.
"I probably won't be far," Willis joked.
Willis has been a part of the fabric of Frederica Academy for more than 40 years as a student, teacher and coach. During that time, Willis won a state championship as a golfer himself — the first in program history — and 15 more as a coach, including a streak of 13 straight that was snapped with a second-place finish this year.
Willis has also led the Knights to 16 region titles and coached 18 players that went on to play Division I golf.
Of course, Willis long history at Frederica makes it difficult for him to stray too far from school. He will still be a part of the golf program, assisting new head Kevin Roberts with the varsity team and coaching the middle school program.
"(Roberts) is really good, and really into hard work," Willis said. "He's got a lot of great ideas, and with his kids coming up, and coming through varsity, it was probably the time to give him a shot at coaching, and kind of be in a position where he can watch his kids play.
"He's been coaching him all his life, so it just seemed logical to have him be able continue doing that."
Roberts, the father of standout rising freshman Jack Roberts and seventh grader Jayden Roberts, will be assuming the position as a varsity head coach for the first time, but he's spent much of the past two and a half years learning from Willis while working with the middle school team.
"(Willis) is a legend out there, so while I'm very excited, it's some really tough shoes to fill," Roberts said. "But I'm kind of excited about the opportunity. We're still going to be very much involved together...
"Most of this past season, I was there for everything just like Tom. I envision maybe some paperwork, and I guess I'll have some more decisions and the opportunity to do some more stuff like that, but we work so well together that, from the outside looking in, it probably won't appear to be much different."
Roberts got a feel for the job this past season, attending most of the Knights' events with Willis. The partnership between the two should make for a smooth transition within the program, especially for the players.
"He'll obviously be helping me with some of those things like scheduling, and just all those kind of things for sure," Roberts said. "He's just always such a good guy in terms of just making every single kid, whether you were on the A team or B team, or you're the No. 1 or you're not the No. 1, he always tried to make them all feel a part of the program. He was always very, very good at that, and still is. He's just an overall nice guy, and a great guy to work with."
There will still be a learning curve for Roberts in some aspects of the job, but with Willis still close by as a valuable resource, and a team stocked with tremendous young talent in Jack, Jackson Byrd and Aarnav Nath, Frederica Academy golf isn't going anywhere any time soon.