High School Football

Communities rally around coach whose ‘baby girl’ was injured in wreck

Former Gustine High football coach Russell McWilliams, along with wife Vanessa, pose with daughter Rachel in a picture taken last year summer.
Former Gustine High football coach Russell McWilliams, along with wife Vanessa, pose with daughter Rachel in a picture taken last year summer.

While his daughter remains in a Sacramento hospital with a severe injury, Russell McWilliams says his spirits are buoyed by the support of friends, family and even a few strangers.

The former Gustine High School football coach was involved in a three-vehicle collision Wednesday afternoon in Redding, where he had just finished relocating his family.

In April, McWilliams took a job as the new football coach and a social science teacher at Enterprise High School. At the time, the 31-year-old said the move to the north state was drastic “but it will be an adventure.”

That excitement was dashed in an instant as an unsafe lane change sent his truck and trailer crashing off the highway.

According to the California Highway Patrol, McWilliams was towing a U-Haul trailer southbound on Interstate 5 when Shilee Davidson, 26, merged unsafely in her Buick, struck a big rig and then careened into McWilliams’ vehicle.

His truck was pushed off the road and struck a tree. McWilliams suffered minor injuries, but his 3-year-old daughter, Rachel, was transported to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento with a major head injury.

On Friday, McWilliams said his “baby girl” is progressing.

“I’m up and down,” he said. “I’m trying to stay busy. My wife is a rock, stronger than I am.”

Two communities separated by about 265 miles are doing their best to comfort and support a beloved football coach and his young family.

His roots in the Stanislaus District run deep.

McWilliams graduated from Gustine in 2003 after helping the program to its only Sac-Joaquin Section finals appearance as a junior.

Thirteen years later, McWilliams found himself at the heart of another banner season on the West Side.

Last fall, Gustine won its first nine games, setting the stage for a winner-take-all rivalry game against Orestimba, also 9-0. The Warriors eventually prevailed, but Gustine advanced to the postseason for a second consecutive season. Once there, Gustine defeated Rio Vista in a wild shootout, 70-54.

Even with that success, McWilliams saw an opportunity for a better way of life for his wife and their four children. His initial impressions of the Redding and Enterprise High communities have been confirmed in the wake of Wednesday’s collision.

Employees at Enterprise launched an online fundraiser for their newest colleague. As of Friday evening, the GoFundMe page had generated more than $10,000.

The page was created by Jill Hardy at the behest of principal Ryan Johnson, who offered this explanation on the fundraising page: “Russell McWilliams is Enterprise High School’s new head football coach and social science teacher. While moving to Redding, the McWilliams family was involved in an accident. Their daughter was injured and airlifted to UC Davis. The Enterprise High School, Hornet Family, is raising money for any expenses that may arise. Help spread the word!”

Many have.

The page has gained traction in the Central Valley, too. The message board is lined with words of encouragement and support for the McWilliams family, especially Rachel.

Among those are voices from back home.

“My thoughts and prayers for a full recovery for Rachel,” Gustine High principal John Petrone wrote.

Added Modesto Junior College football coach Rusty Stivers: “Sending love and prayers to this little girl.”

McWilliams appreciates the helping hands, warm words and generous donations. His phone hasn’t stopping ringing since the incident.

“My wife and I are overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and support from the communities of Redding and Gustine,” McWilliams said. “The support of the Enterprise community has been unbelievable. We are receiving calls and texts nonstop, most from numbers we don’t know, all praying for my baby girl.”

James Burns: 209-578-2150, @jburns1980