By Jerrell Richardson
Patrick Willis, Inside Linebacker #52
Height: 6 ft 1 inch
Weight: 240 lbs
Age: 27 years old
Hometown: Bruceton, Tennessee
Experience: 6 years
For a while, it seemed that Patrick Willis was the only player on the San Francisco defense. He did it all leading the team in tackles, all while providing support in the pass game by dropping back in coverage and recently has been asked to blitz more. As the rest of the defense has caught up to the 5 time Pro-Bowler, and his duties draw him anyway from the line of scrimmage, the perception is that his level of play is not where it once was. The reality though is that with his new role, the team is better, and the result is a top ranked defense, that is ready to lead the 49ers to a Super Bowl.
The Man On and Off the Field
Patrick Willis did not have it easy growing up in Bruceton, Tenn., where his childhood was as unstable as they come. His father was an alcoholic and domestic violence was not uncommon in the Willis’ household. Patrick started working at the age of 10, and by the age of 17 was the man of the house, deciding to take his siblings (two brothers and and sister), to live with his high school basketball coach. Despite bouncing around, Willis still flourished in sports, and lettered in baseball, basketball and football. He also accomplished the rare feat on being nominated Mr. Football for his state at two different positions (linebacker and running back), showing that his future was in the NFL.
Patrick Willis spent his college years at Mississippi where he excelled in the classroom as continued to impress on the football field. He was given the Scholar-Athlete Award, and became one of the best collegiate linebackers in the country. He was twice named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and as a senior lead the SEC in tackles. He was also given both the Jack Lambert and Dick Butkus Award and only increased his draft stock after an impressive combine, leading to San Francisco selecting him 11th overall in 2007.
The Man In the Middle
Since joining the 49ers he has been arguably the best middle linebacker in the game. Helping his development was then, head coach Mike Singletary, who was not suited to run a team, but was invaluable to Willis learning the position at the professional level. His tackle total has continued to decrease since his rookie campaign, but means the defense around him is better. He will never record 174 tackles as he did as a rookie, as NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith and the other defensive stars have proved capable of doing their jobs, meaning that Willis doens’t need to make every tackle on the field. This allows him to stay honest with his reads, and not be pulled out of position to make a plays, which benefits the team. His individual numbers are down, but the defense is the best it has ever been, and you won’t hear any complaints from Willis, who was part of some bad football teams in San Francisco.
A True Role Model
Willis is a star off the field as well, using his celebrity status to help out those around him. He has visited hospitals to bring cheer to those in need of a lift, and has been involved in several charities, most notably the Childhood Cancer Charity, and runs several camps for kids in the offseason. He realizes that it was not too long ago that he was not as fortunate as he is now, and that it’s important to give back to those who need help. Patrick Willis is a stud on the field, but is one of the rare athletes who realizes that his impact will eventually be off the field, where he works just as hard to make his mark.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.