2014 recruit ready for process
Gerald Willis, the younger brother of Landon Collins, is looking at Alabama
Editor's note: This is Part 2 in a five-day series looking at some of the top prospects in the 2014 class.
NEW ORLEANS -- Gerald Willis admits he's scared of mice.
Somehow, the story worked.
Growing up, the two were inseparable, but they were always competing. Whether it was football, riding their bikes, jogging down the street, playing in the pool or just wrestling in the house, it was always a competition about who's best.
There's sibling rivalry, then there's what Collins and Willis had. But the two brothers forged a bond that could not be broken and still remains strong to this day.
"He'd always look out for me and have my back," Willis said of his brother.
Willis, the younger of the two, is a top 2014 prospect from Edna Karr High School in New Orleans. At 6-foot-3, 267 pounds, it's no surprise that he could put some holes in the wall, even at a young age.
It also should come as no surprise that the monster defensive lineman is already drawing interest from schools across the country and holds early scholarship offers from Alabama, Florida and LSU, among others. As a rising junior, he's just now beginning to take visits and plan out how he'll handle the next two years of incessant phone calls and recruiting pitches.
As for his older brother, it's safe to say he knows a thing or two about the recruiting game. Collins not only upset his hometown when he committed to Alabama over LSU, he also upset his mother. The commitment, which aired live on ESPN from the Under Armour All-America Game, went viral, her perplexed look and hostile comments causing a firestorm of speculation among fans and the media.
"LSU Tigers No. 1," she told the national audience while Collins was still pulling Alabama gloves over his hands. "Go Tigers!"
"I don't know what to say about it," Collins said at the time. "I guess she'll still support me."
"That's what they assumed. I was never a college fan," Justin said. "I know that if he would have gone to LSU he would have went in as a safety with his mentor (Eric Reid). I knew it was a win-win situation for him to get on the field."
Collins, who graduated high school up the road in Geismar, La., at Dutchtown High, was considered one of the top prospects in the country and had nearly every major college program after him leading into his senior year. Alabama and LSU duked it out for months before he made his decision at the all-star game in Orlando. He went through the recruiting ringer, and now it's time for his younger brother's turn.
"What Landon was going through is just what I'm going through right now," Willis said. "It's a lot of pressure. When I used to talk to him and how much pressure he was under, he just wanted to get away from it. I just have to get used to it."
Collins didn't make life any easier on himself when he turned down the in-state school to sign with Alabama. The decision was not well-received in his hometown, where LSU flags outnumber Crimson Tide flags by a weighty margin.
"Things in Louisiana are kind of hostile," Collins told TideNation shortly after his decision, talking about his commitment a mere 20 miles from Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge. "It changed a lot of people and what they say about me."
Collins didn't let the pressure get to him, though, and now that's the advice he's giving to his younger brother.
"He just told me to follow your heart like he did," Willis said. "'Follow your heart. If you love it, if you feel comfortable, just go. People are going to have your back wherever you go.'"
If it were up to Collins, there's no question where Willis would be going to school. He'd be following his brother to Tuscaloosa to play for the Crimson Tide.
However, it's not that simple. It never is.
Alabama is one of three schools that stand out early in the recruiting process. Florida and LSU are the other two. Willis recently visited Florida, and according to his mother, he had the same look in his eyes that Collins had when he first visited UA.
"I see the shiny eyes -- like Landon had for Alabama -- I see the shiny eyes for the Florida Gators," Justin said. "The same look with the sparks, I see it already. That was going into Landon's junior year when we first went to Alabama, I saw the little sparks, and I'm seeing it here."
Willis, who visited Alabama in April for the Tide's spring game, has a desire to one day play with his brother at the Capstone, but if the two end up on opposite sidelines, there will be no love lost.
"If I'm lining up against him, it's go hard or go home," Willis said.
During his visit to Gainesville, Fla., Willis put on the Gator uniform and texted a picture to Collins to which the UA freshman replied that he was still going to "smash" his little brother.
This time, when he puts the hat on to signify where he's going to school, he might want to hope for a better reaction from his mom. Although she caught a lot of flack for what happened, Justin is ready to do it all over again with Willis. And this time, she's pulling for the Crimson Tide.
"It's going to be crazy," Justin said. "I'm not looking forward to it, but I am looking forward to it in a sense, so [Willis] can move on. But I'm hoping that everything works out with him to be on the same team as his brother. I really would love to see them play together.
"That'd be once in a lifetime, like winning the lottery, to see them on the same team. That'd be awesome, but it's where he's going to be happy."
If Willis does want to draw a similar reaction from his mom and get people talking at the Under Armour Game again, all he has to do is put on an Oregon hat. The Ducks have been hot on Willis' trail, but a commitment to a school nearly 3,000 miles from their home in New Orleans might send Justin right over the edge.
"He tells me [jokingly] every day, 'I'm going to commit to Oregon,' " Justin said. "You're not going to Oregon. It's going to be a whirlwind on ESPN if he tries to say the Ducks. No Oregon."