Top 100 DL Willis Talks Gators

The state of South Carolina has been pretty good to the Florida Gators in recent years. After a long drought, the Gators pulled defensive end Carlos Dunlap and tight end Desmond Parks in the last two recruiting classes and both are projected to have big careers before they are done. The Palmetto State is the site of another big time player in the class of 2010 and Brandon Willis fits the part.

I can remember traveling to Duncan (SC) Byrnes HS last summer to interview a prospect for the 2009 class. Wide receiver Ricco Sanders was highly recruited and at Byrnes that is nothing new. A program that flirted with the national championship all season last year before finishing eighth in the national high school poll, Byrnes traditionally puts out a ton of college talent.

On my visit in July of 2008, I was observing a simple warmup before a workout and happened to notice this hulking lineman. I had no idea who he was at the time, but had to ask one of the assistants who this player was, what position and what grade. I was shocked to hear he was only going to be a junior and he was a defensive end, but not shocked to hear he was already getting noticed by some top programs. It also must be noted it was Brandon Willis' father that I asked and that got a little laugh in itself.

Fast forward just seven months and Willis holds 11 offers from a who's who of college football programs - Alabama, LSU, Cal, Florida State, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Clemson, Texas A&M, and the latest from Florida are all official offers in writing to the 6-4, 255-pound defensive end. Needless to say, with a junior season that included 144 tackles, 13 sacks, and 34 tackles for loss, Willis will probably be getting a lot more offers before spring ball even begins.

Right now, there is definitely no favorite, "I am open to everyone looking at me," Willis said by phone Saturday night.

You would think that a player racking up 144 tackles in a season must be playing a little bit of linebacker. However, that isn't the case.

"I played defensive end and defensive tackle," Willis explained. "We ran a lot of 3-3-4, so they had to run somewhere. We did real good this year and it was hard to run away from me."

He has proven himself very versatile and therefore he won't be limited by scheme and whatever programs might come after him.

"Some want me as a strong side end and some want me as a defensive tackle," he said. "Most schools run a 4-3 and some want me as an interior lineman and some as an end. It just depends on the school, but to me it just doesn't matter. We have a 3-3 formation and a 4-3 formation that we run."

Willis gives a lot of the credit for his success and how he plays the game to his coaches and former Byrnes Rebels like current Florida State freshman defensive end Everett Dawkins. But, it is a former Florida Gator and possible Hall of Famer that he likes to compare himself to.

"Using my hands and coming off the ball is probably what I do best," Willis said. "(I learned it from) Everett Dawkins and people that came before me and Coach (Mike) Srock. Nobody has really compared me to anybody, but I like Jevon Kearse. He's real fast and pretty strong and can move. I like to compare myself to him."

Willis actually grew up a basketball fan and loves the North Carolina Tarheels basketball program. He didn't have a favorite football program to root for. However, Dawkins current school is one that has been eye balling Willis for a while now.

"Florida State keeps in contact with me a lo," he said. "They have been there for a long time and I like them a lot."

Maybe a little late to the party compared to the several schools that have already offered Willis, but the Florida Gators are ready to make an impression, a bigger one than they already have made with Willis.

"Florida just came around last week," he said. "I am looking forward to Florida and am trying to get down there and see when I can fit a visit on my schedule. I talked to (assistant coach and recruiting area coach) Kenny Carter...I am going to get something together and get down there. Florida has always been a school I have had great interest in. They have great coaching, and send a lot to the NFL."

Willis also has a pretty good friend that recently signed with the Gators and has been in his ear a little about coming down and checking out Gainesville for himself. Greer HS is about 10 miles from Byrnes and former Greer tight end Desmond Parks is already enrolled on campus at Florida after signing with the Gators in the 2009 class and enrolling early.

"Desmond and I played against each other...it's a big rivalry," Willis said. "We went to the same church and he and I are real cool. I was with him the day before he left to go to Florida. He told me he had been talking to them about me and told me I should come down for a camp. There is no pressure or nothing, he's just thinking I should check out Florida. I am supposed to get a schedule of their spring and I will probably be down there for their spring game."

Willis knows a lot about the Gators and their recent three year span of two national championships in football.

"They are great on both sides of the ball...a real powerhouse school," he said. "They really get good athletes and there aren't really any flaws in their game. Fast, finesse, strength, and speed football, the whole package."

Florida does have it's work cut out for it. Willis is planning on graduating early and will enroll in college in January, much like his friend Parks did. The Gators will definitely be losing one starter in Jermaine Cunningham and if he has another great season, junior Carlos Dunlap may be on his way to the NFL as well. A guy like Willis would be a big time get and his ability to come in and learn the defense early would be huge as well. He talks about just what it will take to get him to sign to one school over all the others.

"First is academics and I will be graduating early...my process will be faster than everyone else," he said. "The facilities matter and the atmosphere. The depth chart is important, I'm not afraid to compete for a spot, but it is always important to see how much time you get to play and how soon you get to play. I just want a place where I can have a good time there and help them by playing football."

We will be checking in on Willis throughout the recruiting process here at Scout.com.

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