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Monday, August 29, 2011
Brandon Willis close to returning to UCLA

By Peter Yoon

Defensive lineman Brandon Willis has endured a whirlwind over the last year, transferring from North Carolina to UCLA and back to North Carolina and now he is close to being back at UCLA.

Willis, one of the top-ranked defensive tackles in the nation two years ago, was at UCLA's practice Monday as an observer and said he was completing the school's enrollment process and if all goes smoothly, he should be practicing with the team by the end of this week.

"It’s just where I want to be and what I want to do," Willis said of coming back to UCLA. "Me coming back now is for me, it’s not for anybody else. This is where I want to be. This is where I want to finish out my college career so that’s what it’s going to be."

A 6-foot-3, 270-pound tackle out of Byrnes High in South Carolina, Willis originally enrolled at North Carolina but transferred to UCLA in August 2010, after his father took a job in Los Angeles. He sat out last season because of transfer rules but went back to North Carolina after learning his grandmother was ill and needed surgery.

UCLA granted Willis a release and he enrolled at North Carolina in May, but left the Tar Heels in July after coach Butch Davis was fired amid an NCAA investigation of academic misconduct and improper benefits to Tar Heels football players.

With his grandmother's health restored, Willis said the move back across the country would not be an issue. The burning question now is whether Willis will be eligible to play for UCLA this year.

Willis already sat out last season because of the transfer rule, and would have needed an NCAA hardship waiver to play this season at North Carolina. The Tar Heels, according to Willis, never filed the waiver request. Had they done so, UCLA would not be able to file another for the same player in the same season, but because they didn't, there is a chance Willis could suit up for the Bruins this season.

"I feel like the chances [of playing this season] are greater than to not be, so we’re going to take that chance," Willis said. "If not, I would have had to sit out anywhere else anyway so we’ll just take that chance and hopefully I’ll get to play."

The important thing, Willis said, is that he has finally settled at a school where he plans to stay.

"It was time for me to plant my roots where I wanted to be. I initially wanted to be here so I decided to come back and [coach Rick] Neuheisel welcomed me with open arms," Willis said, later adding "There’s no more moving, whatever the circumstances may be."