Butkus Award Winner Patrick Willis: Love and Desire
I’ve done many interviews and not many have touched me emotionally like this one has. I honestly could feel myself welling up as Patrick described what he’s been going through with the recent death of his brother Detris. I thought deeply about this interview long after because Patrick and I connected through our similar experiences. I shared with him how the death of my mother has affected me over the years to try to give him some perspective on what life is truly like when you lose someone dear. Detris himself was a great 218 pound linebacker prospect who lost his life when his body cramped up while swimming in a local quarry. Patrick is a great kid. He’s a smart kid. He’s a humble kid that has been through it all and is much more wise as a result. Don’t get it twisted, he will be one of the best. He’s set his sights early on the Pro Football Hall of Fame and is deeply focused. Patrick is a ferocious hitter that will terrorize offensive schemes for years to come. Here’s an interview from earlier in the college football season.
PW: I’m silent. I don’t go out there and talk trash. I let my play do the talking. My range is really what gives me the edge over a lot of players.
MT: What drives you?
PW: I really couldn’t say one thing. There are so many things in my life that have shaped who I am. If I just thought of one thing, I’d be leaving out so much.
MT: I heard that. Honest answer. Try to focus on one.
PW: I want to be the best. I will never settle for average or one of the best. To be the best, you have to do anything and everything to become the best. I will be the best.
MT: How has your family situation affected your desire?
PW: It’s opened my eyes in many ways. It’s forced me to see things more maturely and become more focused.
MT: What have your foster parents added to your existence?
PW: Chris and Julie Finley have been amazing foster parents and guardians. I truly respect everything they have done for me and my brother. I don’t know how miserable life would be if it wasn’t for them the last four to five years. They do so much. I can call them anytime and ask them anything and they’ll come through every single time. Whether it was homework or the little things in life. They call me and just ask how I’m doing, how my grades were and just would talk to me. They have made a huge difference in my life.
MT: He’s a basketball coach? What does she do?
PW: Yes he’s a basketball coach. She’s more than a coach’s wife. She keeps everyone in line at games, from the refs to the fans (Patrick chuckles).
MT: Do they have children of their own?
PW: No sir.
MT: Growing up, how did you deal with not seeing your siblings when you were with your foster parents and they were in foster care?
PW: We didn’t go into foster care until I was sixteen. We all went to the same school, so we continued to see each other every day. We were no more than eight miles apart from each other. There was never a time when we didn’t see each other.
MT: Did you expect to be in the enviable position of being one of the top linebackers in the country and a certain high draft pick? Did you always expect to be the player you are presently?
PW: I always knew that I was a good athlete. Did I expect this? No, I can’t say I did. Like I said earlier, I always wanted to be the best, so I guess that desire helped guide me where I am today.
MT: How does you play compare with the initial day you stepped on the Ole Miss campus?
PW: (Patrick laughs) Wow! It’s so different. One of the things I remember is being able to do whatever I wanted to do. There really wasn’t anyone telling me to do this or that. I think I’ve really done a good job to keep myself out of trouble and resist all the temptation that is out there…to stay focused and constantly improve myself. I just wanted to go to school and play football. If I just did that, all the other stuff would come.
MT: You have been quoted as saying that mere thoughts of your younger brother Detris (deceased) ground you. How does that affect you everyday?
PW: It’s hard to think about him. I try not to reminisce too much. I try to understand that the Lord has a better place for him and that things happen for reasons that we just don’t know. I’ll walk down the street and just think of him. My faith in God has helped me to understand why he’s gone.
MT: Let me just say this to you. My mother committed suicide when I was eighteen. There is not going to be a day that goes by that you don’t think about him. Flip the tragedy and use it as a positive. It’s gonna be hard days and easy days. Maybe those thoughts of him helped you handle something you couldn’t handle. It’s something you are going to live with for the rest of your life. You seem very strong. You seem like a great kid. Dont’ turn it off. Let it guide you. I’m proud of you and I don’t even know you. You ever need anything, give me a call.
PW: Yes sir.
MT: Describe how hostile the atmosphere can be at a typical SEC road game.
PW: Aw man! It can get wild! Teams complain about how wild our fans get. Road games against Auburn or LSU are crazy. I can remember my first experience playing in the swamp at Florida. It was sooo loud! You couldn’t hear anything! All you could hear was your ears ringing.
MT: How do you not jump offsides when you are near the endzone?
PW: You have to stay disciplined or you will be on the sideline. You never get used to the noise, but you just have to make sure you do the right thing or it will cost your team. I just made sure I led by example.
MT: Who is your favorite athlete?
PW: Ray Lewis and Terrell Owens. No one is perfect, but these two go about their game in a true disciplined and professional manner. Their work ethic is second to none. Terrell Owens gets the job done, no matter what people say about him. He can play the game and that’s all that matters to me. Ray Lewis is still one of the best linebackers. I think he’s the best that ever played. He consisitently goes out there and makes plays.
MT: Why is it important for athletes to give back? Do you plan on doing so when you enter the NFL?
PW: Yes sir! I do plan on giving back. Athletes have got to understand that they didn’t get to where they are by themselves. They were blessed in some sort of way. I don’t care if it was a coach, a fan, an adminstrator or whomever. Someone positive is always there. I thank God everday for that. It’s very important for athletes to understand that there’s a child somewhere who is looking at their every move.
MT: Do you aspire to be the best defensive player of all time?
PW: Yes sir! I will make a difference in the NFL. I don’t want to be compared to Ray Lewis, Vilma or Urlacher. I want them to say my name. When I was younger I used to say I wanted to be like Emmit Smith or Michael Irvin. I then decided to become my own man and strive to be the best in every single way possible. On one of the IQ tests, a question asked: “What do you want, fame or fortune?” I want fame. I want to be in the Hall of Fame. No one can take that from you. Fortune means nothing to me. People go bankrupt all the time. Nothing is guaranteed financially. You could die tomorrow and what would you money be? Absolutely nothing!
MT: What motivates you in the weight room?
PW: In order to be the best, you have to possess all the qualities and to become the complete player that I want to be. That’s what motivates me every single day.
MT: Who was your closest teammate and how did your teammates and coaching staff help you during your career at Ole Miss?
PW: I had a lot of great teammates. The one I’m closest too and hang around the most is Jamarca Sanford (SS). When he came in as a freshman, I didn’t know him that well, but after a while we got to know each other and have become really good friends. He’s my brother. We have a new coaching staff now, but they as well as the previous staff were great. They really informed me of my job and what it would take to become a better player. Coaches have really been good to me in time of need. Coach Cutcliffe called my house, sent me letters and really put himself out there when my brother passed. I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by good people.
MT: Describe what kind of man Coach Cutcliffe is?
PW: Coach Cut was a laid back coach. There’s really not too much to say besides he is a really good man. He really believes in the Lord. Whenever someone has that kind of faith, you want to surround yourself with them. I have a lot of respect for him.
MT: In terms of talent, who are some of the players you admire across the country?
PW: I got to meet a lot of players being on the preseason All America team. Calvin Johnson is an amazing player. He’s not just a great athlete and player, he’s a good man. I got to meet Ted Ginn Jr. and Troy Smith when they picked the Playboy All America team. They were fun to watch. I also met Adrian Peterson. He’s doing his thing. So is Dwyane Jarrett. I named all offensive players because I really don’t pay attention to the defensive players. I try to keep my head on right and not follow or pick up on something another defensive player does. It keeps my emotions out of it.
MT: What’s the hot joint making your speakers pop?
PW: Not one thing in particular. I listen to all kinds of music. I really couldn’t tell you one.
MT: Do you have a favorite video game?
MT: What’s it going to be like playing Madden with you actually in the game? Are you in the college game?
PW: Yes, I am. Growing up, you say one day I wanna be on TV. You say I wish I could be on a video game. To be one of the best players and be in the game is one of the greatest feelings.
MT: I feel like I know you Patrick. Your story is incredible. Like I said before, I’m truly proud of your many distinguished accomplishments. Keep your head up bruh! The light is shining on you. Stay in touch when you get to the NFL!
PW: I most definitely will sir. Thanks for the interview.
*Note: Patrick was drafted 11th by the San Francisco 49ers in the first round.