R.J. is Willing to Toe the Line with the Cougars

Much of BYU's recent success has been attributed to improved play by the Cougar offensive line. TBS recently caught up with one of the bookends on that line, standout offensive tackle R.J. Willing. Willing discusses recruiting, playing on the scout team and the new philosophy of the blue collar boys up front. He even took time to answer a few questions from the fans including one about any plans to serve an LDS mission.

Kamehameha High School football star R.J. Willing left his tropical home of Oahu, Hawaii to see starting time among the mountains of Provo as a red shirt freshman on BYU's offensive line.

Willing, a 6'4", 305 pound linemen, first got a taste of Provo when he came to BYU during the summer of 2002 to faced the likes of BYU camp standouts Brian Soi, Isley Filiaga, Terrence Brown, Nick Alletto, and Ray Feinga in one on one competition.

"R.J.? I loved him in our camp," said BYU head coach Gary Crowton. "He was here in our camp and we offered him out of our camp. He came out here and he was recruited pretty good, pretty heavily," said Crowton.

Willing was offered a full ride at every school he visited. He was offered by Oregon, and on December 13th, 2002 when he left the land of the Rainbow Warriors to visit the land of the Ducks in Eugene. He followed that with a trip to the Huskies of Washington on January 1st, 2003, the Utah Utes on Jan 24th and back to the University of Hawaii on Jan 31st. It was his trip to BYU on the 17th of January that seemed to make the difference. He signed his letter of intent to play for BYU on signing day in February.

Said Crowton: "Well, we red shirted [Willing] the first year but this year he was able to battle because Eddie [Keele] had some problems early physically. It gave R.J. a chance to battle in there and he was steady and he grew and he developed. We had enough guys where if he were to make a mistake we could take him out and teach him, and that's been good and that will help the next guys coming in."

Fast forwarding to the 2004 season, Willing got his first chance to play Division I football against the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.

"Well at first it was kind of serious, but then when I first got in against Notre Dame, the first couple of plays I kind of got into my moves and my rhythms and ever since then I've been comfortable," said Willing. "It's just come natural."

Willing continued: "Oh it's been awesome. The biggest thing other than being on the line and being a starter is the friendships you make with the other O-linemen and the unity and the synergy that's been involved. I think that's the most awesome thing. It's grown and right now we are at our peak where we are operating on all four pistons right now. We hope to continue that."

Willing has become a key part of the offensive line's recent success in run and pass blocking. As the line's performance improves, coach Crowton is adjusting the offense to better suit the elevated level play.

"Well, I think coach Crowton has seen that we are able to run the ball now and he has a lot of trust in us," said Willing. "He's integrating it into our game plan and the results show how. He said we are 19-0 now when we are over a 150 yards rushing, so it's a proven system, we just got to keep that up."

However, as often times is the case at BYU, key cogs in Gary Crowton's offense leave the program for one reason or another.

"R.J. has been really good and now that the season is winding down he's sending in his papers and getting his mission stuff going, and sometimes that's a distraction in of itself but he's handled it very well," Crowton said.

Of departing to serve a mission, Willing said: "It's going to be hard leaving. This is my second year here and I'm starting to get into the groove, and it's going to be hard but I have to do this because it's part of Lord's plan. I know the Lord will bless me when I come back."

TBS concluded the interview with R.J. by asking him questions submitted online by TBS subscribers.

First up, Phil Richards of Las Vegas asked, "Who is the toughest guys [R.J.'s] gone against and why?"

Willing replied: "In the games Mike Patterson of USC. His speed was deceiving but then he could bend that corner, his hands were good, his spin moves and everything."

As a follow up to Phil Richards question TBS asked, "How do you compensate for a guy who possesses talents the likes of Mike Patterson."

Willing responded: "First time you go against him you see what he's like and then you just make adjustments. Like you sit back you use your hands and you don't lean into him."

Willing went on: "In practice the toughest guy I've ever gone up against is Manaia Brown. He's just the best guy with the way he uses his hands I've ever seen before. Yeah even better than Mike Patterson. He‘s really helped me out going up against him during the scout team last year, and during spring ball and fall camp he‘s really helped me develop my pass protection."

Tyler Tippets out of Las Vegas asked: "Are you still planning on going on a mission? If so, when?"

Willing replied: "Yes. I just turned in my papers yesterday [Nov 8th, 2004]."

TBS followed Tyler's question with, "Are there any specific places you want to go?"

Willing answered: "I just want to learn a language. I wouldn't mind learning Tongan or Samoan, but anywhere where I am needed. I kind of want to go to the South Pacific."

Rex McBride of California asked: "If the speed of the top DL or LB you faced in HS was 50 mph, what is the speed of the D-I DL's and LB's? How hard was it to adjust to the faster speed? If the strength of the DL's and LB in HS was 100 lbs, how much stronger are the college guys?"

Willing responded: "Oh it's double. That was the biggest adjustment I had to make. The physicality wasn't that much of a difference, it was just the speed. I just had to adjust my technique and my footwork and I had to shed some weight. I came in here at 325 and I'm down to 305 now so that's helped me."

Jim Barrus asked: "Evaluate your progress from the time you landed at BYU to now that you are receiving playing time. . .Who was the one that was most responsible for the progress?"

Willing replied: "Well, the system, the more confident I got the more I could depend my technique. Grimes doesn't want us on the field if we're not playing 100%, and if we don't know what we are doing we can't play 100%. We have to know what we are doing and that's where I've progressed. Once your confidence grows then you can concentrate on technique other than knowing what to do just on that play."

Mark Pedersen of Georgia asked: "How has Coach Grimes prepared the OL in 'specific ways'? In other words, what is Grimes teaching all of the OL that they did not know very well before his arrival in Provo?"

Willing answered: "On our board in our meeting room there is a list of 5 things on what an offensive line is. We sat as a group before spring ball and just defined it. The number one thing is we are a Family. Then we are hard workers or Blue Collar workers. Then we have to be Believers in the system and I think we've instigated that. We can't Control what other people do. We can only Control what we can do and do it to the "Best" of our abilities."

R.J. offered the following brief thought in parting, "Thanks for the support and just keep coming to the games."

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