Willis' Hoosier Career Off and Running

Bloomington – Fully recovered from off-season surgery, freshman tailback Darius Willis is ready for some heavy lifting...

Bloomington – Fully recovered from off-season surgery, freshman tailback Darius Willis is ready for some heavy lifting.

While a slew of returning Hoosier players were back on the practice field for the first time Monday following your typical off-season surgeries for things such as shoulders, knees and ankles, Willis was back on track after undergoing hernia surgery in the spring. Unlike his new teammates, Willis' injury didn't come in the most conventional of ways.

Like the others it did come in competition, but of a different variety. Willis was injured while competing in a tug-of-war at Franklin Central's Senior Olympics in the spring. The injury abruptly ending his high school track season and put him on the shelf for a couple of months.

"When I told the IU coaches about (the injury), they laughed about it," Willis said. "They said they were happy because I had previously messed up my ankle in January and they thought I needed some downtime to recover since I'd been going hard all year long."

That's exactly what happened. Willis underwent a 15-minute operation and was then shelved for a good portion of the spring. He said he lost both strength and weight while recuperating from the procedure, but he's since regained it and is listed at 6'0" and 220 pounds entering camp.

Now fully recovered, Willis has a chance to compete for playing time right away. Indiana has quality tailbacks returning in Marcus Thigpen, Bryan Payton and Demetrius McCray, but there's little doubt the biggest name in the Hoosiers' 08 recruiting class will have a chance to work his way into the Hoosiers' running back rotation.

"Watching him through individual stuff, he's what we're looking for," said IU Coach Bill Lynch. "He's only been here one day, but he's been here for summer school, he's really mature. He's exactly what we were hoping he'd be."

Willis might be catching the attention of the coaching staff already, but he admits it's an adjustment going from what he's been used to at the high school level to college. As is the case with most freshman, Willis said the speed of the practice as well as the players is the biggest difference.

"It's a lot different," Willis said. "The linemen are fast, the defense moves fast, the offensive tempo is faster than it was in high school, and everyone is good. It's a lot faster than what I expected."

With the jump from high school to college, Willis is trying to catch his breath both literally and figuratively. On top of trying to get up to speed with his new surroundings at IU, Willis is also having to occasionally use an inhaler to combat his asthma. It can be particularly bad on warm weather days, which figures to be a good chunk of the Hoosiers' fall camp during the next three weeks.

"When it gets really hot I'll need (the inhaler) three or four times per day," Willis said. "I have bad breathing problems, so I'm trying to stick them out."

Willis figures to not on stick it out, but stand out as camp wears on. Thigpen, Payton and McCray figure to get most of the reps with the No. 1 and No. 2 units during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 work in camp, but Willis' opportunity could come at any time.

"You have to survive the 2-3 weeks, because so often young guy's reps come as things happen (to others), so you have to survive all that so when your chance comes you're ready," Lynch said.

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