Priest Willis just does his thing

UA All-American won't talk about himself, but plenty of others will sing his praises

Originally Published: May 28, 2012
By Nick Ruland | Special to ESPN RecruitingNation

CHANDLER, Ariz. -- Ask around the Under Armour Sevens about Tempe (Ariz.) Marcos De Niza DB Priest Willis and there is no shortage of descriptions on why he's going to be a big deal. Truth be told, with 34 offers from elite programs, from ones in the flyover states to ones on both coasts, Willis is already a big deal.

Plenty of people will say it. None are named Priest Willis.

"He is just a man-child," said Marcos De Niza defensive backs coach Joe Robertson. "It's almost embarrassing watching him go against other Division I recruits. They just don't get off the line."

When Willis transferred to Marcos De Niza from Phoenix St. Mary's his sophomore year, Robertson moved him from safety to corner, allowing him to impact more plays and improve his footwork. But Willis, No. 62 in the ESPN 150 and the No. 6 safety, became so dominant teams worked around him. So to get him involved in the game again, Robertson created a new position that opponents can't ignore in 2012 -- rover.

[+] EnlargeWillis
Nick Ruland for ESPN.comUnder Armour All-American Priest Willis hopes to narrow his list down to 12-15 by next month.
With his athleticism and strength -- he runs a 4.4 40-yard dash, benches 315 pounds and squats well over 400 -- Willis, an Under Armour All-American, has the potential to play corner, linebacker or safety in college. So rover is not going to be an issue. But there's much more to him than just speed and size.

"His football IQ is off the charts," Marcos De Niza head coach Roy Lopez said.

Robertson goes a step further.

"He is a scout and coach on the field for us," Robertson said. "What he'll do is take the first three or four plays of the game and get tendencies off that. What he's told me is that he'll go off of that and relay what he sees and we usually try to take his word for it. When he tells us he sees something, he'll sit on it and he's almost always right. He makes my job easy."

Some of Willis' teammates have played with him for years and see it more as an evolution.

"His work ethic ... ridiculous," said Mauriece Lee, Marcos De Niza's star running back who committed to Arizona in the spring. "He is the strongest player on our team. He transformed to another person his sophomore year. For him it's all about getting to the next level."

Lee wasn't talking about college. He was talking about the NFL.

All his teammates see it.

"We push each other like no other," Marcos De Niza WR Paul Elvira said. "In the morning at 6 o'clock we go for two hours, just me and him in one big gym. I always knew there would be some kind of situation where he was going to blow up. You could just tell because he grew into his body, he matured, and he realized what a great football player he could be. Now he's proving it."

Willis doesn't seem to mind all the attention. In fact, he's spent much of his high school years being groomed for the next level. His stepfather, Mike Walker, played at Central Florida and has helped provide guidance throughout the recruiting process.

But even Walker is taken aback by how Willis is handling life as one of the nation's top prospects.

"He ain't phased," Walker said. "It's amazing. He ain't phased at all. Never gets too high and never gets too low. Literally nothing has changed, his group of friends hasn't changed, the way he acts hasn't changed. The only thing I'd say that has changed is he used to work hard but now he works even harder. It's crazy."

Walker and Willis, along with former NFL players Toby Wright, Vincent and Cain Anderson, work out together at a private fitness club in Tempe. Wright, Vincent and Anderson go over film and share their knowledge of the game's intricacies with the players. Willis can't get enough.

And that's when it all makes sense and explains why so many heap praise on Willis. It's not just that he's an elite prospect, it's that he acts and works like someone still searching for an offer. His game is big time, but Willis doesn't big time anyone. He just keeps working. He has the big picture in mind.

"It's easy to be humble, because if he shows Toby he was on ESPN, Toby is just going to say, 'You haven't done nothing yet,'" Wallace said. "[Willis] knows where he's going to be one day."