Ennis DC wins Broyles Award

Longtime assistant ‘Coach Willie’ receives prestigious honor

Patty Hullett
Daily Light correspondent
Ennis defensive coordinator Paul Willingham (center) coaches some of his boys on the sidelines. Williangham has been named the Texas winner of the Broyles Award, honoring top assistant coaches.

Long-time defensive assistant coach for the Ennis Lions, Paul Willingham, is the newest recipient of the prestigious Broyles Award, which honors outstanding assistant coaches across the United States.

Willingham, called lovingly by his coaching counterparts and players as “Coach Willie”, has served 39 years as a football coach in several different capacities over the years at Ennis High School. He was nominated by a former Lions head coach, Jack Alvarez, who is now the head coach at Cuero High School in Cuero, Texas.

The Broyles Award is named for Frank Broyles, the extraordinary coach who commandeered the college team at the University of Arkansas, and he was well known and beloved over his 18 years of coaching the Razorbacks from 1958 to 1976.

This award was first set up 25 years ago and its purpose was to honor outstanding “collegiate” assistant coaches. According to the Broyles Award website, “The program was expanded in 2018, to include “high school” assistants now. This spotlighted honor recognizes the top high school assistant football coach annually in every participating state, projecting their excellence onto the national stage.”

A football kind of life

Willingham says, “I’m currently in my 39th year of teaching and coaching at Ennis High School, and this is the first and only place I ever coached. Evidently, they can’t get rid of me! I am the Defensive Coordinator of the varsity team, and specifically I handle the linebackers and communicate with my assistant defensive coaches..”

He continues, “Call me a tad biased, but I truly believe that Ennis players are special. They are often out-manned against opponents, but they play extremely hard and with an overload of heart – in fact, they are ‘lionhearted’ (definition says brave and determined) you might say. Ennis rarely has Division I college prospects when compared to some of the teams we play, but our players expect to win the moment they step on the field. Not only do Ennis players play hard, but I’d like to think that at least a portion of their success comes from our coaching staff. We have some extremely good coaches currently, and also in the past, that work together to make us successful. The expectations of Ennis football fans are always high and our kids and coaches wouldn’t have it any other way.”

When asked what motivates him as a coach year-after-year, Willingham replies, “I absolutely love coaching kids and seeing them grow and mature into young men from 9th grade to graduation. To me, that is truly satisfying. I enjoy seeing them accomplish their goals and them realizing that to reach those goals requires hard work, dedication, and teamwork. These are worthwhile traits that will actually aid them when they become employees, husbands, and fathers in the future.”

Ennis is home sweet home

According to Coach Willingham, his family (he and his parents and siblings) moved to Ennis in 1973 from South Dallas. He started Ennis schools in his 8th grade – and he and his family have lived here ever since.

The coach played football for the Lions from 8th grade on through the completion of his graduation. All 5 years he mainly played defensive linebacker, and that is still his calling as a coach today.

In addition, Willingham admits, “I met and fell in love with my high school sweetheart, Kathy Ballew, in my junior year at EHS. I graduated from high school in 1978, and I received my Bachelor of Science degree from Tarleton State University in Stephenville. My major was in Agriculture Education. Believe it or not, I had wanted to be a high school ‘Ag’ teacher, but God had other plans in mind for me. Instead, I thoroughly enjoy coaching and teaching Biology at EHS.”

He continues, “Thirty-nine years of marriage and counting, Kathy Ballew Willingham has stood by me, and Ennis is so special to us because it is the place where our very own family began. We raised three children here in Ennis. My sons played football and my daughter was a cheerleader. My children attended college, got married, and eventually settled back here in Ennis where they are raising their family, as well. In fact, we brought up our children in the same church that we still attend today, along with my seven grandchildren. And, I can’t say enough about how much community means to our family. Our sweet village fully supports our athletics in Ennis, and another wonderful attribute about E-town is that its folks here seem to always rally around those in need. All-in-all, Ennis is a great place to work and to raise a family.”

An honor to be recognized

Willingham says, “Winning the Broyles Award is a big deal to me. I am so honored to be recognized for my hard work and dedication, but my success, or more importantly, the football team’s success, is more attributed to all the wonderful assistant coaches as a whole who have been an immense portion of Ennis football since 1994. In particular, there is Coach Steve Marrow, who has been an integral part of Ennis football since that year (1994). He has worked right alongside me all these years as a defensive back coach and we owe him a great deal of credit for any of the successes of the team. He is a large, important part of this program. And, of course, we all appreciate the excellent leadership and expertise of head coach Sam Harrell as well.”

In conclusion, Harrell says of his defensive coordinator – Paul Willingham – “Coach Willie is very deserving of the Broyles Award. He has been a loyal Ennis Lion since the 1970’s and has touched the lives of thousands of young people. He is loved by our kids and our coaches, and we are so happy for him and his family. And on top of that, he has done an awesome job coaching our defense for all the years I have been here in Ennis!”