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Football: Willis fuels Ryan with competitive fire

Profile image for By Ben Baby / Staff Writer
By Ben Baby / Staff Writer

Just looking at the way Trent Willis was keeled over in the middle of the field at Tiger Stadium in Corsicana, nothing needed to be said to chastise the Ryan receiver.

Early in Ryan’s lopsided win over Corsicana, Willis sprinted past his defender and let a surefire touchdown pass slip through his hands and onto the turf.

It wasn’t the same Willis who leaped and stole a ball off a defender’s back in a preseason scrimmage and jawed with the defender afterward.

However, Willis made full amends for the drop against Corsicana and showed why he’ll be a pivotal part of Ryan’s offense when it faces the Wylie East Raiders (1-1) at 7:30 tonight at Wylie Stadium.

Willis’ passion and pride have played a huge role in why he has gone from a quarterback on the second freshman team to the varsity squad’s most lethal aerial threat.

“He was not happy with dropping that pass up there against Corsicana,” Ryan coach Joey Florence said. “He’s such a competitor, and you have to remind him with that every now and then. That’s what great players do. He comes back the next week and lights it up. He didn’t drop it that next time, and I bet he wouldn’t. That’s why we threw it to him again.”

The next time Willis caught a pass was the next week against Wichita Falls Rider, when the redhead caught a pass in the middle of the field and was taken down a yard short of the goal line.

Willis accumulated a career-high 143 yards on five catches for three touchdowns in one half of work.

Quarterback and fellow senior Mitchell Bridges remembers when Willis wasn’t his primary wide receiver but the top quarterback for Ryan’s B-team freshmen. From what Bridges can remember, he fared fairly well as a quarterback.

His coaches will say Willis is capable of playing all over the field. But in his junior year, Willis racked up 537 receiving yards and six touchdowns as he broke out and became one of Ryan’s main wide receivers.

“There wasn’t any doubt in my mind he’d be a great defensive back, but we needed a receiver and we were hoping he could be our big threat on the outside,” Florence said. “And he did. He’s pretty good. You’d better pay attention to him when we line him up out there.”

Ryan wide receivers coach Billy Miller said Willis has followed the same maturation process most teenagers go through in a football program.

“I think one of Trent’s biggest assets is his pride,” Miller said. “He’s very prideful on the field, and what that leads to is a very, very high desire to win. And whether that’s the game, whether that’s the individual play, he’s always competing to win.”

When asked if that pride has ever come back to get the best of Willis, Miller laughed.

“There’s a reason pride’s a sin,” Miller said.

Willis rarely talks at length, but he admits that he’s let his anger get the best of him in the past.

“People used to pick on me because I was a redhead,” Willis said. “People had never seen that before. I’d get real angry and start fighting everybody.”

Bridges said Willis usually can control his temper.

“He’s probably one of the most competitive people I’ve ever played with,” Bridges said. “He loves winning.”

That sentiment is something that reverberates with the Ryan coaching staff. They’ve known what the senior has been capable of. Over two seasons, Willis’ potential and the traits that help him tap into that potential have come to fruition in the past 13 games.

“Trent has always been a talent,” Miller said. “It’s just been a matter of honing it in and figuring out what he’s really good at. We finally got him in that position, and he’s flourished.”

BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @Ben_Baby.