By Brandon Cavanaugh
It’s no secret that Nebraska’s secondary depth is so razor-thin that it could be pitched to Gillette. The Huskers have gone after some of the best and brightest defensive backs early in this recruiting cycle and Priest Willis is no exception.
The Tempe, Arizona native has a number of desirable qualities in a secondary member – strength, speed and physicality, but it’s Willis' killer instinct that helps underscore Bo Pelini’s desire for his signature.
At 6’2” and 200 pounds, Willis is an imposing presence at cornerback. With his size, he and former Husker Lavonte David may share a similar career path with a potential move to safety. Regardless of where he plays on the field, Willis’ eventual school of choice will be getting a prospect that plays and works hard.
Willis finds himself bored in Tempe and when he's bored, he hits up the gym to work out. Weights and cardio aren’t the only parts of his training regimen, though. After he’s done with a football player’s standard routine, he slips on boxing gloves and has a go at the bags.
The spotlight’s come quickly for him as it does with many highly-coveted recruits. As it stands, he wants to wait until the flood of letters slows a bit to start making any decisions. “I’m open to anything. Whoever offers me, I’m willing to look at them. A free education’s a free education, you can’t overlook that,” Willis said.
To many, Willis’ talk of academics may seem like lip service. However, he has an excellent guide to teach him about life during and after football in his mentor, former Nebraska safety Toby Wright.
The high school senior-to-be even wears No. 3, the same number worn by Wright at Nebraska. Selected in the second round of the 1994 NFL Draft, Wright has clearly taken the time to not only educate Willis on Nebraska's tradition, but also how long, or more specifically short, a career in the pros can be for those who make it.
“You need your degree. No one can take your education from you. An NFL career, it can be short, so you’ve got to have something to fall back on,” Willis said. Professional football remains over the horizon for the time being and while Wright has passed on his personal pride of being a part of the Cornhusker defense, Willis is a fan of what Bo Pelini is doing in Lincoln himself.
“He’s a great guy and I’ve heard really good things. I love how they run the defense, very physical. They’re not scared to take chances. That’s what I love about a coach. You’ve got to gamble to win big,” Willis said about Pelini’s scheme.
Despite his success, Willis remains humble as he knows that other players eye his starting position just as he will do the same once he gets to the next level. “If I could play as a freshman, that would be my dream, but nothing’s given to you. You have to work hard, you have to compete. There are other guys out there and they want to keep their spots, so you have to keep competing.”
In the meantime, Willis continues to work on perfecting his game, not only from a physical standpoint, but he stressed that he’s working to improve his football IQ as well. In terms of choosing a school, he’s not worried about such things right now. “Whenever I feel it, I’ll make that decision,” he said.
If the Cornhuskers can wrap up a commit from Willis down the road, not to mention those of his fellow Spring Game visitors, Nebraska could have one of its best secondary classes in over 15 years.
While Wright will surely allow Willis to make his own decision, one has to wonder if visions of wearing black on the Huskers' practice fields as his mentor did won’t be tempting come the fall.
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