by Gary Leftwich

In the years beyond college, Willie Candler plans to carry on the family tradition.

The question is - which one?

The University of West Georgia quarterback guided the Wolves this year as they reached the second round or further in the NCAA Division II playoffs for the third time in four years. A tough three-point defeat at the hands of West Florida ended that run.

Willie Candler

Even with the loss, Dick Pretz, Candler's maternal grandfather, surely would be proud. He knew a thing or two about football, having played halfback in the triple option for legendary coach Bobby Dodd at Georgia Tech. History remembers him as scoring the nation's first college touchdown captured by television cameras. He also ran the ball for the 1951 national championship Tech squad that defeated Baylor in the Orange Bowl to go undefeated with a tie against Duke.

"He suffered from Alzheimer's when I was young, but he did get to see me score my first touchdown ever in pee wee football," Candler said. "I think about him before every game and try to make him proud because I know he's watching up above. He was a huge inspiration for me to play football. Still is today."

When he's not calling and making plays, Candler devotes much of his time to studying real estate with an eye toward joining the family business. Yes, that family business - the one that started with his great-great-grandfather, Asa Griggs Candler, the one-time Atlanta mayor who founded a little enterprise known around the world today as The Coca-Cola Company. Asa G. Candler, Jr. helped build the business into an empire and ventured into development with many notable projects, including Atlanta's Briarcliff Hotel and Candler Airport, now Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

"I grew up in real estate because that's what my father's side of the family does," Candler said. "I'm studying real estate to see if that's what the future holds for me."

In conversation, the former Lovett School standout speaks quietly and respectfully with an economy of words. He knows quite well what he's capable of - he led Lovett to a Georgia AA championship in 2013 as a junior - but prefers to let his actions on the field speak for themselves. That, as well as the word "champion," is a recurring theme mentioned by those who know him best.

"Willie is a quiet leader. He has a great work ethic and it transfers over to the rest of the team," David Dean, UWG's head football coach, said, describing Candler's daily work ethic as "...lunch pail, punch the time card and go to work. He has a presence of confidence that I love to see in a quarterback."

That style plays a large part in the Wolves' success, according to Dean, who has two Division II national championships as a head coach and one as an assistant. Other players understand Candler has things under control and is focused on the task at hand on each play and for the overall game. That gives them the confidence to tackle their respective roles, allowing the entire team to play more efficiently and effectively.

Knowing the plan, executing it and remaining calm give Candler a unique sense of discipline. He never panics or forces a play, understanding it's better to start again rather than try to salvage something from a failed attempt.

"He never tries to make a bad play a great play. He understands when things are broken down and does not put us in a more difficult situation," Dean said. "He will live for the next play instead of trying to do too much."

"Willie is a very smart and savvy football player," he added. "He knows his strengths and weaknesses. He plays to his strengths and never tries to overcome his weaknesses during a game. He realizes the time to do that is practice and off season."

Candler quickly credits Dean with helping him reach a higher level of maturity.

"He's my first coach who was not a quarterback coach. That brings a different perspective," he said. "I've had to learn to speak up. I've got to tell him what I'm seeing on the field. He's helped me develop the confidence to do that."

There have been times that confidence was tested.

When a coach at an SEC university told Candler he was too short to play in a major conference, Candler took it personally. Rather than seeing a limit, he viewed the challenge as an opportunity.

"You don't have to be 6', 3" and throw it 70 yards down field to win," he said. "You have to be a good player and make plays happen. Just be smart with the ball, make plays and not turn it over."

Although he could have played at other schools, UWG turned out to be the perfect place to make things happen on and off the field because of its quality athletic and academic programs and the campus itself.

"It's a top school in the state. When you get to the campus - it takes your breath away," Candler said, adding that friends who visit are just as mesmerized. "They can't get over how nice it is. When I go to Atlanta and wear UWG apparel, people come up to me and say, 'I went there,' or 'My daughter goes to school there.'"

Once he got into the rhythm of classes, Candler found a strong sense of community with classmates and faculty. Students are encouraged to forge their own paths, but support is easy to find they need it.

After a rocky first semester, where Candler confesses he did not focus hard enough on grades, he started to take advantage of the assistance offered to students. He's made the dean's list in each of the three semesters since and boasts a 3.6 grade point average. His professors describe him as a quiet and thoughtful student, who shares ideas when needed and who emerges as a team leader in group projects.

As he does with his coaches, Candler quickly attributes part of his success to his professors at UWG's Richards College of Business.

"They've had a lot of experience doing what we talk about in class. That's one of the top draws for UWG," he said, adding that he particularly has been impressed with marketing lecturer Cheryl Brown. "She's been in the field, so she knows what she's talking about."

Class size also has helped according to his father, Bill Candler, president of development for Candler Development Company, which has been in business for 135 years. Willie's twin sister, who studies marketing at another university with much larger classes, helps provide perspective.

"She's taking Finance 3 with 900 people," Bill Candler said. "Willie's taking Finance 3 with 30 people. That's a big deal. Every professor knows him. He has the ability to get with them and get square on what he's learning."

The discipline of athletics keeps the young quarterback sharp and will serve him well should he choose to join the family real estate business.

"He's a developer and risk taker if there ever was one," Bill Candler said. "Every play is a risk. Every time you throw the ball, it's a risk. He has the built-in ability to manage that pressure.

So, which family tradition is Candler leaning toward? It seems only time will tell. He says his heart is in sports, but he would be proud to carry on the family business for another generation.

"Right now, I'm just working hard and I'll see what my future holds," Candler said, adding that he’s glad UWG is the arena where he's building that future. "It's a great place. I'd encourage others to check it out. Look how far I've come at UWG."

Posted on December 12, 2017