Greenwood High School assistant coach Willie Branch is stepping away from his profession with 35 years under his belt.

Branch has been a fixture at Greenwood as a varsity assistant coach and middle school coach in football since 2006. He was in his second stint at GHS after first joining the staff in 1991 and staying until 1997. Branch, 62, was also teaching health and science the last four years.

Branch admits he may still be seen at games in the fall. Sitting around and doing nothing is not in the plans.

“I’m going to miss this a lot when the next school year gets started. I’m going to miss the kids, and everyone who I have worked with the last 30 years,” said Branch.

In his second stint, Branch worked the first three years under former head coach Jeff Gibson. The last 10 years he has been on Clinton Gatewood’s staff. During that time, the Bulldogs have won seven district titles and played in four North 4A championship games. He’s served as defensive coordinator, coached linebackers and also helped with stats for the team during games.

He started under Alfred Hall in 1991 as a defensive assistant. He also helped to coach the youth football teams at Davis Elementary in the 1990s, mentoring former players such as Cleo Lemon and C.C. Brown, both of whom later played in the NFL.

“The first time I saw Cleo throw the ball I knew he was going to be our quarterback one day. He had such a pretty release on the ball, and he had a strong arm at a young age,” Branch added. “I was looking for the fastest player on the field. So I did a little contest to see who could race to me and get a $5 bill I was holding. C.C. took off and beat those other boys down the field. I put him at safety.

“I enjoyed coaching the kids at a young age, and watching them grow up. My main goal was to get them into college. Playing ball wasn’t going to be the only thing to get them in college. They also had to have the grades. I had a Coach Branch rule for my middle school kids. They had to maintain a B average. Parents didn’t always like it, but when I explained it to them, they came around.”

Following Branch’s first stop at Greenwood, the Durant native accepted the head coaching position at Williams-Sullivan High School. He held that position, as well as being athletic director, coaching the boys basketball team for two years, the girls team for one year and helping with track for four years. He stayed at Williams-Sullivan from 1997 to 2001.

He spent the next few years in the Durant area, working at a local elementary school and later as defensive coordinator at McAdams. That’s when he got the call from former Greenwood High personnel director Willie Young to return to Greenwood.

“I was actually interviewing for a job at Holmes Community College when Mr. Young called me. They had openings for a football assistant and a basketball coach. I came over and got hired to join the football staff,” he said.

Branch was a standout player at Durant in the late 1970s. He was a member of the DHS teams that had compiled a record of 30-0. One of his teammates was former Ole Miss Rebel Buford McGee, a standout running back.

He then attended Holmes Junior College as a free safety.

He also was on the track team. He played in the 1980 juco all-star game, racking up 13 tackles. He then signed on with Delta State and played for legendary coach Johnny “Red” Parker. He was named Academic All-American and made the National Dean’s List. He played rover for Parker at DSU.

He had a chance to play professionally. He had free agent deals in place with old USFL teams Birmingham and Memphis, as well as tryouts with the Jets, Broncos and Steelers.

“I was in the car with four of my teammates from Delta State headed to a tryout, but I changed my mind and came home. I was just ignorant,” Branch quipped. “I worked with the DSU staff for two years, and then I joined Coach (Larry) Dorsey’s staff at Mississippi Valley for one year. I worked with linebackers and special teams.

“I feel like I made the right decision. There’s no telling where or what I would be doing if I had gone and signed with one of those teams. I’m just glad I chose to work with young kids, and teach them how to give a good effort and have a good attitude.”

Branch said there are three individuals whom he looks up to the most.

“The first is God. He’s everything to me. The second is my mom. She’s still living at the age of 87 and cooking cakes every day. And the third person I look up to the most is my older brother Frank. He retired from the Army as a major. Those are my heroes. I talk to them every day,” the veteran coach said.

nContact Calvin Stevens at cstevens@gwcommonwealth.com.

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