The Orlando Oak Ridge football team will be under the direction of its third head coach in six games, and fourth in six months, Friday night when Elijah Williams takes over as the Pioneers' coach.
Williams confirmed the hiring Thursday afternoon. He will lead Oak Ridge against East River.
Williams, who guided Oak Ridge to a 30-14 record in four seasons as the head coach, left this past spring to take on the position of running backs coach and recruiting coordinator at Florida A&M in Tallahassee.
The Oak Ridge program has gone through a topsy-turvy change in command during the first two months of the school year and it's a situation to which school officials are hoping to bring a bit more normalcy by bringing back Williams.
The coach happened to be in town this week to deal with a family matter and had dropped by the school for a visit. During that visit the poosibility of him returning was presented by school officials.
Williams, who coached at Oak Ridge from 2008-2012, the first year being as an assistant coach, will also regain his former duties as girls basketball coach for the Pioneers.
Matt Coleman was named interim coach in the spring until Oak Ridge officials brought in former Notre Dame and NFL All-Pro running back Ricky Watters. That hiring, however, backfired and came to a head last month when Watters resigned abruptly amid an administrative investigation. School officials put Watters on leave until he resigned two weeks ago.
Details of the Watters investigation have not yet been releasd by Orange County Public Schools, but the district did announce that it's investigation was closed Oct. 2, and the records will be made public sometime within the next few weeks.
Travis Gabriel was named the interim head coach after Watters was suspended. Gabriel will no longer be on the Oak Ridge staff.
Williams has named Coleman his offensive coordinator, and another current staff member, Dustin Adkins, will take over as the defensive coordinator.
Williams, a former Florida Gators running back/defensive back who also played four seasons with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, re-inherits a team that is 4-3 this season and mired in a four-way tie atop the Class 7A, District 4 standings with Lake Howell, Winter Springs and Wekiva.
He met with the Oak Ridge players Wednesday night but was not going to finalize his decision until speaking with FAMU head coach Earl Holmes on Thursday. He made the decision shortly after 1 p.m.
Williams said the players were very receptive to the idea of him returning.
"They were excited," he said. "I remember when Oak Ridge had only won 16 games in six years. The year I got here I said that isn't going to happen any more. For four years straight here we had a winning team.
"The best thing about building a winning program is that if I had left them and came back and they were 0-6 or 3-5 or something like that, then I didn't do a good job of building this program. When you build a program, it doesn't matter who the coach is, you still should be able to sustain something. I told them, 'It's a tribute to you all that you kept this program afloat ... In four months you went through a whole bunch of stuff and you all still have the chance to win the district."
While in his first stint as head coach at Oak Ridge, Williams came to find out what it really meant to be the mentor of the Pioneers program. Many of the players come from broken families, single income homes or have sordid family backgrounds. Williams said the coaching and mentoring did not stop when he walked off the field at the end of the day.
"They are a very resilient group. One thing about Oak Ridge High School, those kids can deal with anything," Williams said. "I told them that and I asked them, 'How many of you all's power has been cut off in the last two months?' ... 65 percent of them raised their hands."
Williams continued: "I said, 'Here you all are, you got your power getting turned off, you got no food on the table ... I got so many different cell phone numbers for all of you because your phones are always getting cut off. You all go through a lot of stuff no one knows about, but you still go to school, come to class with a smile on your face like nothing's wrong.'
"I tell people everywhere I go, 'I wish I could have the resilience that these kids have.' ... they're used to it. They say, 'That's my life, something is always going to come up.' "
Oak Ridge has three regular-season games remaining, including two district games — Friday at East River and Oct. 24 at home against Lake Howell. Williams' rehiring comes at a key time. The Pioneers had been averaging 40 points a game in the first five games, but have struggled offensively in the past two, a 25-20 loss to Winter Springs and a 23-20 win over Ocoee.
A win at East River and losses by Winter Springs and Wekiva this week, would set up a showdown for what could be the district title game next week at Oak Ridge against Lake Howell. The Silver Hawks are idle this week.
This district, however, is probably looking at a Week 12, Monday shootout.
Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coverage coordinator and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter at @Os_Recruiting and Facebook at Orlando Sentinel Recruiting, Instagram at os_recruiting and on Pinterest at Orlando Recruiting.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun