Camp Profile

Florida State has talked about a renewed commitment and new psyche this season. Speaking of changes, <b>Ray Willis</b> has noticed a difference in coach <b>Bobby Bowden</b> as well. "As of right now, he has a more hands-on approach in handling his players," Willis said. That should be a good thing as FSU looks to re-establish itself amongst the nation's elite. The countdown to the Seminoles' season-opener at North Carolina Aug. 30 has started, and the excitement is beginning to build.

Florida State has talked about a renewed commitment and new psyche this season. Speaking of changes, Ray Willis has noticed a difference in coach Bobby Bowden as well.

"As of right now, he has a more hands-on approach in handling his players," Willis said.

That should be a good thing as FSU looks to re-establish itself amongst the nation's elite. The countdown to the Seminoles' season-opener at North Carolina Aug. 30 has started, and the excitement is beginning to build.

Willis, a junior offensive tackle from Angleton, Texas, can feel it as well. He is expected to play a major role in FSU's resurgence. Willis started eight games last year and played in every game as a freshman, starting against Georgia Tech and Florida. He easily boasts the most experience on an offensive line that's easily the team's biggest question.

No excuses.

"It's time to get this program back to the upper echelon of college football," Willis said.

Willis is considered one of the team's anchors, a mature leader who is not bashful when it comes to motivating his teammates.

During one summer workout when the team was running stadium steps, Willis felt some players were not giving enough effort. He erupted into a tirade, reminding players that Miami was not sitting on its, err, fannies.

Last week, it was Willis who came to the defense of quarterback Chris Rix during drills. When Rix was knocked to the ground on a clean play by linebacker Buster Davis, Willis took exception and mini-brawl ensued. Willis shrugged and offered no apologies, saying the Seminoles can't afford to lose their starting quarterback.

While last year's team was criticized for its inner turmoil -- critics pointed to a lack of leadership from the senior class -- Willis felt losing was the brunt of the problem. Four of FSU's five defeats were by 10 points or less.

"I was able to have sort of a role. I wasn't able to step in a fulltime role as an offensive line leader but I was able to say what I needed to say to certain players," Willis said.

"There was a lot of leadership (last season), but it was a situation where a lot of things didn't happen for us like they should have. We lost a lot of close games. I mean, you lose a close game can break down a team, can break down a team's moral. It's not like there was a lack of leadership. We had a strong bunch of seniors last year. It was just a lot of cards didn't fall our way."

Willis stressed the program can't afford a repeat performance, especially if the Seminoles struggle at times this season. "You have to be able to jell and stay together because not everything is going to happen like you want it to happen," he said. "You most definitely have to stay together. If we can stay together and play like a team, I think everything is going to go right for us."

Willis is also back at full strength after off-season shoulder surgery that kept him out of spring drills. Willis, one tough cookie at 6-6, 295 pounds, was hampered by shoulder pain the entire season in 2002. He dislocated his shoulder during off-season workouts.

"I really couldn't play full tilt like I wanted to," Willis said.

"It felt like maybe if I put somebody on the ground too hard or I landed wrong, it was going to come out of place. Right now, I think I am playing a lot more relaxed. I can play like I want to play."

FSU points to change this season, and Willis also believes in the Seminoles' offensive line despite the overall inexperience. While he understands the concerns of fans, he feels the unit can develop into a team strength.

"The guys that we have, I am totally confident in," Willis said.

"They all have my back and I have their back. We lack some inexperience maybe in the inside three and a lot of people are questioning those guys, but those guys are all players and I can vouch for any one of them.

"Athletic ability? Matt Meinrod is a specimen. Bobby Meeks is one of the quickest guys. David Castillo is very, very intelligent and he will fight to the end. And we have Eric Broe, who is one of the strongest guys on the team. Athletically, I think we are a very athletic offensive line, maybe more so than last year.

"We can do a lot of different things. We are not going to be the biggest offensive line, of course, but I think as far as just being physically tough and athletically gifted, I think we are one of the better offensive lines in the country."


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