LYNCHBURG, Va. – We hear it from younger people, “Hard work pays off.”
This old adage is true, even if the gain comes unexpectedly. Ask Malik Willis.
“I was just trying to come and play football and graduate. I didn’t even think I really had a chance to play in the NFL,” Willis said when asked about the idea. to be one of the top prospects for the next NFL Draft.
His college coach Hugh Freeze also took a leap of faith.
“There were no significant snap tapes,” Freeze said.
But there was a fierce drive, a tenacious and humble spirit with an undeniable will to win in the transfer from six-foot Auburn. That showed in 2020 as he led Liberty to a 9-1 record in 10 starts as he emerged as the ultimate double threat.
If that wasn’t proof enough, his Pro-Day held in March certainly was. He drew nearly every NFL team to Hill City, including Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.
“It’s not for me to say where I should and where I shouldn’t go, but I can get an idea of where I think I might be,” Willis said. “That doesn’t mean I’m better than everyone else, it’s just the confidence in my abilities and the support I have with God.”
As Willis embarks on what he hopes will be a successful NFL career, he doesn’t need to look far for guidance. Former Liberty running back Rashad Jennings spent eight years in the league, his breakout seasons coming with the New York Giants. The two recently had a chat in which Jennings said he was able to share his knowledge and vision for the game with the rising star.
“To be honest with you, I sucked,” Jennings said. “Now because of that I worked really hard and because I worked really hard I ended up getting better.”
“He’ll be a first-round pick and he’s got this huge gift under the tree. Now the challenge becomes how to put it in your room? All of these things are going to start coming. So those were the conversations I had with him,” Jennings said.
In the years to come, that’s all Willis hopes to do: excel at the highest level and define his own level of achievement.
“His core values set him up for success. He’s not easily swayed by what other people say or think or is not as results-oriented as this world imposes on you,” Freeze said.
“With a grateful heart, you are always happy,” Willis said. “That’s why you always see me smiling because whether it’s a bad pitch or a perfect pitch, I have an opportunity and I’m lucky to have the ability, so it’s up to me to work hard and get better. try to get her.”
The 2022 NFL Draft begins Thursday at 8 p.m. from Las Vegas, Nevada.
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