Michael Billings Jr. of Georgetown is in his third year with the Coastal Carolina football team, and the plan was for him to transition from safety to more of a linebacker position this season.
The junior has yet to miss a practice or a defensive meeting involving linebackers since the team began full practices on July 29.
But he has also yet to put on a helmet or pads, and he won’t.
Instead of transitioning to linebacker, Billings is converting from football player to student coach.
Billings suffered his third concussion in three years earlier this summer during 7-on-7 team drills, and said he was medically disqualified by the team’s doctor, who advised him to stop playing football for his health.
“Coach Joe [Moglia] preaches life after football, so at one point in time you have to think about it. I was hoping mine wouldn’t be as soon as it was, but I’m thinking mine is now,” Billings said. “I was blessed with an opportunity to work upstairs with the coaches because I wanted to be around the team.”
Billings said he can retain his scholarship for his final two years of eligibility as long as he remains involved in athletics. He wanted to remain around the program, especially with younger brother Sheldon joining the team as a freshman linebacker, and initially planned to work with the equipment managers. But linebackers and special teams coach Ryan Goodman asked him about his interest in coaching with him.
“It’s life. You have to deal with your cards, so I’m coaching right now and doing something to help out,” Billings said. “Right now this is the next-best thing. It’s different watching your players going through practice sweating and working hard, you’re just standing there trying to contribute. The only thing you can do is just coach them up. You’re not there running and sweating with them like you were just a few weeks ago. It’s different. They’re still adjusting and I’m still adjusting to it.”
Billings has quickly shown promise as a coach and impressed his fellow coaches, including defensive coordinator Mickey Matthews, who said the team will miss his intelligence and versatility on the field this year.
“We’ve remarked as a staff that coaching seems to come easy to him,” said Matthews, who won a national Division I FCS national championship as the head coach at James Madison. “He’s really doing a nice job. He certainly has a knack for it. I think the players have been very receptive to him. That’s a very difficult thing to do, to start coaching the guys you’ve been playing with. But there’s no one that our coaching staff and the team have in higher regard than Michael Billings.”
In two seasons as predominantly a safety and special teams player, the 6-foot and 200-pound Billings played in 22 games and started five on defense, recorded 32 total tackles – including 19 solo and three for a loss of yards – broke up two passes and forced a fumble.
Michael was a great kid to have on the bus because he’s extremely intelligent as a player and he can play safety, he can play outside linebacker, he was a great special teams player and he knew what to do. He’ll be missed.
Coastal Carolina defensive coordinator Mickey Matthews
He was hoping to play more and contribute more this season.
“I cried for a whole week. I still cry at night about it if I think about it, so I try not to think about it too much,” Billings said. “It was a big turnaround that I’m still going through. I’m still depressed but I take every day one day at a time and try to stay active and stay moving and don’t think about it too much.”
I cried for a whole week. I still cry at night about it if I think about it, so I try not to think about it too much. It was a big turnaround that I’m still going through.
The head injuries began in high school. He said he was knocked unconscious on the field during his senior year at Georgetown High, was knocked unconscious in a game again late in his freshman season at Coastal, and suffered his third concussion in three years this summer during drills without pads. He lunged to knock a pass down and fractured the orbital bone around the eye when it cracked against a teammate’s head. The orbital bone is still healing.
“I was expecting him to be on the field, but God has a different plan,” Sheldon Billings said. “He was hurt, but he knows the best decision and right decision was to bring his career to an end because he has a whole life to live ahead of him. That was the best decision for him.
“… Having my brother as a coach is kind of different but it’s pretty cool.”
Billings, the son of educators, is an Information Technologies major who was hoping for an internship next summer at the Boeing aircraft manufacturer in Charleston, where his cousin works as a computer engineer.
After about a month of exposure to coaching, he’s leaving the door open for that to be his career choice. “It’s still too early to tell. I like working with kids and coaching them up, so right now it might be the road to take,” Billings said. “I’m really enjoying coaching right now.”
He is finding satisfaction when he sees players comprehending what he’s is teaching them. “When you see something click for them after I coach them up, you see it in their faces that, ‘OK, that makes sense,’ ” Billings said. “That’s one of the biggest joys I get out of coaching.”
Billings coaches all linebackers but specializes in the “hero” position that he was learning that is like a hybrid of a safety and linebacker. “There are things I know that helped me on the field that will help the players on the field,” Billings said. “If you know a linebacker position you know them all because everything is like a puzzle.”
Billings is trying to learn to balance simultaneously being a coach and brother, but is able to give Sheldon extra attention outside of practice with activities such as film study. “You’ve got to be able to draw that line between the brother role and coaching role,” Billings said. “I’m still tough on him but I’ve got to be able to pull it back because at the end of the day I’m his brother.”
The decision by Sheldon, a Graphic Design major who is 6-foot and 220 pounds, to attend Coastal Carolina was done with not only his older brother but his entire family in mind, and his reasoning is still applicable with Michael coaching.
“The decision I made to go to Coastal was the best decision for my family traveling-wise, allowing them to come support both of us instead of having one game over here and one game over there,” said Sheldon, who was also recruited by colleges including Campbell, Presbyterian and Limestone.
Matthews said it hasn’t been determined what Billings will be doing on game days. The season begins at home Sept. 2 against Massachusetts. “We haven’t talked a lot about what his duties will be, but I would really be surprised if he wasn’t on the sideline helping the kids during the game,” Matthews said.
Billings had the same aspirations entering Coastal that many Division I college football players have, and those have had to be adjusted.
“When we started this when we were kids both of our goals was to make it to the next level, to college and then the NFL after that,” Sheldon Billings said. “If God doesn’t lead us there of course we have to have a backup plan. If we don’t, of course we have our education to fall back on.”
Michael Billings’ education will include college football coaching experience.