IU Gets Its Man in Willis

Indianapolis, Ind. – Indiana football might have secured its biggest football commitment in a decade Tuesday afternoon. That's when 5-11, 215-pound Franklin Central running back Darius Willis arrived for his 3 p.m. press conference sporting an Indiana University football t-shirt...

Indianapolis, Ind. – Indiana football might have secured its biggest football commitment in a decade Tuesday afternoon.

That's when 5-11, 215-pound Franklin Central running back Darius Willis arrived for his 3 p.m. press conference sporting an Indiana University football t-shirt, making it obvious he wasn't preparing to announce he was headed to Kentucky, Purdue or Boston College.

"I'm announcing I will be attending Indiana to continue my career," Willis said.

Willis is a huge get for the Hoosier staff for a couple of reasons. First of all, he fills a huge need at tailback. While Marcus Thigpen, Demetrius McCray and Bryan Payton all return next fall, Willis should contend for playing time right away. After all, he did rush for 1,728 yards and 28 touchdowns this fall while leading Franklin Central to a 9-3 record.

"He has the big three – he has the size, he has the speed, and he has the strength," said his high school coach Lance Scheib.

But his commitment is also a huge shot in the arm for a program that has been trying to show it can out-duel other top-flight BCS conference programs for recruits. While Indiana has uncovered its share of diamonds in the rough such as Kellen Lewis, James Hardy and Tracy Porter, it's long been trying to prove it could be a formidable recruiting foe with a player like Willis, Scout.com's second-ranked player in the state of Indiana.

The Hoosiers nearly did that a year ago when they seemingly had Warren Central safety Jerimy Finch before losing him at the 11th hour to Florida, but they did it this time around with Willis' pledge.

While his four finalists consisted of IU, Purdue, Kentucky and Boston College, he also drew interest from the likes of Tennessee, Illinois, Notre Dame and Alabama, among others, during the fall. Scheib said both Louisville and Ohio State came into the picture late as well and talked of offering a scholarship as well.

But Willis opted to stick with those that had been recruiting him the longest. He admits he wasn't interested in many of the southern schools because the heat aggravated his asthma, and his preference was to find a school that made it clear that he was one of their top recruiting priorities.

"(The big-name schools) didn't appeal to me," Willis said. "They might be a big name, but they have to show me why they're a big name. They may say they have this or that, if they don't show the little things on the table, it doesn't matter."

The thought is that Willis' commitment could kick off a late rally for the Hoosiers' '08 recruiting efforts, as other elite recruits could be enticed to join him in Bloomington.

"I hope (my commitment can help) a lot," Willis said. "I don't think I'm the big guy that everybody is looking for. But I think once they see I've committed, others will follow because they know me and I'm great friends with everyone else."

Willis said he actually informed the IU coaching staff of his decision Sunday morning at the tail end of his official visit to the Bloomington campus. He wound up canceling a previously scheduled official to Boston College because it was clear in his mind where he wanted to play his college football.

"I knew where I wanted to go," Willis said. "There was no sense in going out of my way to take another visit when I felt comfortable with what my decision was going to be."

IU Coach Bill Lynch and Willis' recruiting coach, Billy Lynch, were both in the room when Willis made his decision known to the IU staff. Their reaction was immediate.

"He was happy - I would say he screamed like a girl," Willis said. "He was pretty happy."

Willis figures to make plenty of IU fans happy as well. He's a player who combines plenty of strength with 4.4 speed in the 40. Scheib said he's made great strides as a receiver out of the backfield as well, and his prep coach thinks his blocking might be his greatest strength.

He's also someone who's grown a great deal as a football player over the past two years.

Scheib said it was a "no brainer" from day one that Willis had the tools to be a major Division I player, but he questioned whether running back was the right spot for him. While he might have looked the part, Scheib wasn't so sure that it would ultimately be the right fit.

"I said I'm not sure you're a running back in college," Scheib said. "You might be a linebacker, you may be something else. Because his junior year, he wasn't seeing it the way I thought he should be able to see it."

Willis took that message to heart and went to work in an effort to learn how to be a more polished running back.

"I decided that I just needed to work harder if that's what I really wanted to play in college," Willis said.

That work has paid off. He's gone from one of the most dangerous big-play tailbacks around to one of the most complete running backs in the Midwest.

"The biggest thing is he's improved his vision," Scheib said. "He has a better feel for what's going to happen. He really figured out what it took after the junior year to be successful. I give him credit for that, because he had to have the ability to study more film, to be more than just a runaway back.

"The hardest thing to teach a back early on is patience, and I think he developed that this year."

Peegs.com Top Stories