Northside amputee to play college football, follow Paralympic dreams

alopez@macon.comApril 23, 2014 

WARNER ROBINS -- In a wrestling accident his freshman year of high school, JaQue Billingsley dislocated his knee. Complications from the injury led to the amputation of part of his right leg.

One of his football coaches, Chad Alligood, visited him at the hospital. Billingsley had just started rehabilitation exercises and was feeling discouraged.

“I kind of had a heart to heart with JaQue and told him to get up and move,” Alligood said. “You can’t change the situation, so you might as well make the best of it.”

Billingsley responded to the challenge, Alligood said. He underwent surgery to repair his knee and learned to work with a prosthesis. This past season he started on the defensive line for the Northside High School varsity football team.

“I don’t really see it as a tragedy,” Billingsley said, referring to the amputation. “There’s nothing I can do but move forward from it and try to be an inspiration to people and try to do bigger things.”

Now finishing up his senior year, he is committed to playing football at the college level and is working toward one day representing the U.S. in the Paralympic Games in track and field or weight lifting.

Billingsley takes pride in his upper body strength.

“When I was in the hospital, I used to walk around with the walker and do dips,” he said.

This year, he broke the football team record for most weight lifted using the bench press technique by clearing about 400 pounds.

Alligood, the offensive coordinator, said coaches treated Billingsley like any other player, but he inspired the team through his work ethic.

“We’d have to block him during practice, and offensive linemen couldn’t move him,” Alligood said. “He’s strong as an ox.”

The Eagles were ranked as high as fifth in the state with Billingsley on the defensive line and earned a 9-2 record on the season.

As an important part of a winning Middle Georgia football team, he attracted the attention of Pasadena City College in California.

“We are fired up at having a shot of him being a part of our program,” said Fred Fimbres, head football coach. “I hold Georgia football in high esteem. If he played against Warner Robins High and Houston County High and Peach County High, he can play.”

A leader among sharks

Last month, Billingsley led all scorers with 16 points in the wheelchair basketball state championships, and the Houston County Sharks repeated as champions.

On Saturday, he’ll play again as a Houston County Shark for the wheelchair football state championship, which the county won last year as well. Billingsley will play receiver, where he has caught multiple touchdowns this season.

On defense, his coach wants him to be disruptive and intercept passes. “He sits really tall, and he can read the floor,” Brenda Arnett said.

Billingsley took his experience on the Northside football team and helped to re-create that team atmosphere for his physically impaired peers on the Sharks. There are students who had never participated in team sports before joining the county wheelchair sports program, Arnett said.

“He helped kids realize how special it is to be on a team,” she said. “He has that smile that makes you smile back.”

Billingsley also brought confidence and skill to the three county wheelchair teams. Arnett said she’ll have to work especially hard to fill his shoes as the goalie of the handball team. He helped that team repeat as state champions, too.

One of his goals now is to make the U.S. Paralympics team. Last summer, Billingsley traveled to San Antonio for the U.S. Paralympics Track and Field National Championship. He competed in the discus event against gold medal winner and world-record holder Jeremy Campbell. Billingsley said he was nervous and threw for about 30 meters to Campbell’s 60 meters.

He has a lot of work to do to compete at Campbell’s level, he said, but he is committed to continuing to train hard.

“I work hard for what I get,” he said.

To contact writer Andres David Lopez, call 256-9751.

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