- Erik McKinney, ESPN Staff Writer
Safety Priest Willis (Tempe, Ariz./Marcos De Niza) has done everything he can to keep away from the recruiting process thus far as he puts his full effort and concentration into helping his team reach the state championship game. He could be rewarded this Friday, as the Padres take on Tucson (Ariz.) Ironwood Ridge in the semifinals.
The Padres’ one loss this season came to the Nighthawks and Willis is fired up to make a statement this time around.
“We’re hungry,” he said. “Everybody knows that. They run hard and a lot of the same plays over and over, so we’re just going to come out and play hard because it’s win or go home and we’re not trying to go home.”
Willis said he has a different mindset in these playoffs, with the knowledge that he could be playing his final high school game every time he takes the field.
“It’s your last chance to make your mark on state,” Willis said. “It makes you want to play harder.”
There have been times this season where Willis has been matched up one-on-one with the opposing team’s best receiver. But with Ironwood Ridge showcasing a triple option attack, it will likely be less about cover skills and more about filling gaps and coming up in run support.
“I like being a team player,” he said. “Whatever the team needs me to do, I’m going to do it. We all have to come together as a team, work the game plan and stick to what we know. There is no doubt in our minds that we’re going to stop them.”
Willis has done a great job this season in not letting the constant recruiting buzz affect him, while still making time to take a peek at some possible destinations. One such place is UCLA, where Willis will take an unofficial visit this weekend, as the Bruins host the USC Trojans.
“It’s just for a good game,” said Willis, adding that he has been to UCLA numerous times. “I know what UCLA is about. I know the ins and outs of it, just like with Arizona State.”
After the season, Willis would like to finish taking all of his official visits. He has seen Nebraska already, but had to postpone trips to LSU, Notre Dame and Virginia. He said the LSU and Virginia visits will likely be rescheduled, and he would also like to take an official visit to Florida State on Nov. 23, as the Seminoles host Florida. That would leave Willis with one more visit to take, though he said he is unsure of where he would want to go.
10dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough