By KEVIN BURD
KEARNEY – From player to coach to player again. That’s the story of University of Nebraska at Kearney linebacker Willie Fair’s football journey.
After playing at Azusa Pacific University in California for five years, Fair helped coach at Hastings College in spring 2021, then became a graduate assistant coach at UNK in fall 2021 and spring 2022.
What was jokingly thrown around at first became reality when Fair found out he had another year of football eligibility remaining.
“Getting to last season there were a couple guys on the team that were from my same class in high school, the Class of 2015,” Fair said. “So I thought that was kind of weird how they were still playing. I just went on through the season with players continuing to ask me when I was going to play and why I wasn’t playing. I made some phone calls to my old compliance officer and he said it looked like I had a year left and could pursue that.”
In seven games this season, Fair has 24 tackles, including 1 1/2 for loss, and one sack. He was also on the receiving end of a successful two-point conversion in the win over Missouri Western State.
“One thing about it is he is extremely knowledgeable because he was coaching for a full year,” said UNK head coach Josh Lynn. “He’s a great leader and he gets along with everybody. That’s not an easy transition from coach to player. There’s kind of a line there, but he’s done it awesome. He gets along with everybody; everyone respects Willie and he’s a really good football player.”
In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, Azusa Pacific cut its football program, meaning Fair’s playing career with the team ended with an ACL injury. This made his decision to play again that much easier.
“I think for me it was pretty easy because I was never really able to finish what I started,” Fair said. “I’m big on being able to finish what you started and football has been something I’ve been around my whole life. I think not being able to finish it on my own terms was something that I really couldn’t come to grips with. It was hard for me to leave Azusa at the time that I did and it was hard for me to hear that they were cutting the program, so being able to finish for me is the main part of it.”
While it is a unique situation, the coaching staff wouldn’t have brought Fair back onto the playing field if they didn’t think he would be a valuable contributor to the team.
“We got to doing this thing last year and he was working hard for us,” Lynn said. “I think he still felt like he was missing something and he still had one semester to play. He approached us coaches and asked if he could play. We thought he was crazy, but obviously the first thing you do is go back to look at how good he was, and he was a very good college football player. He still is a good college football player.”
This story first appeared in The Antelope student newspaper