"I just want to win," he says. "We got to the SEC Championship two years ago and lost. You know that was kind of an empty feeling. So the team goal is to just win and that's what I want to do for myself and everybody--just win."
His team-focused attitude may be partly from frustration over not being able to contribute the way he wanted to as a junior. Willis suffered a severe high ankle sprain in practice last August, but continued to try to perform on it all season. He played in just eight games to finish the year with 14 catches for 142 yards. Every time he would make progress on his rehab, he would re-injure the ankle again. The result was he didn't play a single down at full speed in 2001.
The problem lingered into a lackluster spring, but head coach Tommy Tuberville says he is optimistic that the coaching staff will see the real Marcel Willis in action this fall. "He was just in bad shape in the spring," Tuberville says. "We talked about it. He got hurt in the last scrimmage of two-a-days last year and never was healthy. He kept reinjuring throughout the season and again in the offseason.
"He really wasn't in good enough shape to get a lot out of spring. Marcel was really disappointed, but when you can't run you can't run. He was not in the playing shape he needed to be in so this summer is very important for him. I expect him to be ready to go this season."
When healthy, Willis is a strong leaper and a sure-handed receiver.
Willis says his hard work in rehab over the offseason has his ankle in perfect shape heading into his senior season, even after slightly re-injuring it during spring practice. "It is 100 percent," he declares. "At first during the spring I was doing little exercises, toe raises and all that to make the ankle stronger. Now it is more endurance work because my foot is better."
With that problematic ankle and limited playing time last season, some fans might conclude that Willis may have lost a step or two. However, he insists that he is still the same athletic receiver that he has always been, but says that the injury did have an effect on him.
"Last season kind of got me wondering," Willis explains. "I thought coming after my sophomore year I could really do this, I could be a force to be reckoned with in the SEC. So, the only thing that I might have lost is maybe some confidence, but I know I can still do it."
With his renewed confidence and a healthy ankle he has the potential to return to the form he showed in his sophomore season when he was second on the team behind Ronney Daniels with 27 catches for 352 yards. And Willis says he believes it is his time to step up and be the leader at his position. "I really do, I feel like it's about time. The first year I was behind Ronney and all of them and then they leave and my ankle is hurt. Now, I think it is time, it is really time."
Along with stepping up on the field, Willis has stepped up off the field and started to help all of the younger players get ready to contribute to a depleted receiving corps this fall. Signees Devin Aromashodu, Lee Guess, Anthony Mix, Montae Pitts, Benjamin Obomanu and Courtney Taylor have been on campus working this summer.
"It is really a more physical game than high school and you have to push yourself much harder because the tempo is much faster," Willis explains. "And I didn't know that when I came here. They were telling me that, but I didn't really feel it. So, I need to really really let them know that this game has changed from high school."
The 6-1, 185-pound Willis enters his senior season with 50 career receptions for 605 yards.
Willis notes that he has liked what he has seen out of the freshmen receivers so far this summer and says they will be very important to the Tigers this season. "They are here now and they are pretty good. And they will have to play and they will have to contribute because without them we don't have much depth at receiver."
Even though wide receiver is forecast to be a problem area for the 2002 Tigers and with the expectation that several true freshmen will have to make serious contributions, Willis contends the Tiger receivers are going to make some serious waves in the SEC this season. "We're going to be much better than everybody expects us to be because nobody is really worried about us," he tells Inside The Auburn Tigers.
With a grin on his face, he adds, "We don't matter, we don't exist, we're like last in the SEC, so we're going to take everybody by storm because nobody knows about us."
Willis says that all of the negative attention has ignited a fire under the Tiger receivers and inspired them to work even harder heading into the 2002 campaign. "We're going to show, we're going to show. That's our motto--we're going to show everybody that we can do it."
Tiger Ticket Extra: Along with a new motto, this year's receivers have a new offensive scheme to run and catch in. And Willis says he definitely likes what he's seen so far. "It's much better than last year's," he says with a big smile. "He's more wide open and throws the ball much more, so I like it."...In coach Bobby Petrino's offense, Willis should have plenty of opportunities to run a variety of types of pass routes. "I do what needs to be done to get what the coaches want," Willis says. "If it's a bomb they need then throw it up and I'll go get it or if it's a five-yard first down they need then I can do that too."