Every prospect selected to participate in the U.S. Army All American Game can’t rightfully lay claim to being one of the nation’s best. However, among that distinguished group there are always youngsters that separate themselves as the cream of the crop. Starkville, Mississippi linebacker Willie Gay is one such prospect. The four-star linebacker’s speed, strength, and physicality have allowed him to stand out while sharpening his skills against other top talents.
"I knew before I even came out here there was going to be a lot of competition, but I didn't know it was going to be this fun,” said Gay. “Being able to play beside guys that you aren't the only one making the play, it's pretty exciting and I'm loving it."
"The only thing I had to adjust to was, 'okay, you're not going to be making all of the plays. You've got other guys out here that can make plays, too.' I ain't no selfish player. if you can make that tackle go on and make it. I'm loving it."
Anyone that observed him during the first two days of practice in San Antonio understands why college coaches are loving the idea of sliding Gay into their respective defenses. The battle for his services has led to a number of changes atop his leaderboard. Just week word of another change surfaced.
LSU is now the favorite.
"(That report) is kind of accurate,” Gay revealed. “I know they were already down bad at the linebacker position. The players they've got on their team, they're not really too good right now. They just had a decommitment, the other day, I forgot the guys name, Monty Rice or something like that? Him decommitting just leaves me an opportunity."
"Really all of my schools are even. LSU has probably got a little bit high, a little bit. I don't know where I'm going to go yet but LSU has moved up a little bit higher."
The Tigers replaced Michigan as Gay’s top team, but the talented youngster insists the Wolverines are still held in high regard.
"They didn't move down,” he said. “When I went to Michigan it was like, perfect. Everything I ever wanted in a school… academics, I feel like I was at home still (and) the weather wasn't that bad to me. I was cool with the cold weather. I loved it."
Gay wasn’t the only one that came away from that Ann Arbor trip loving the Maize & Blue. He was accompanied on the visit by his mother, brother, and aunt, and the experience left an indelible mark on them also.
“(My mom) didn't want to leave, “ said Gay. “She wanted me... It's my decision, but she would love if I went to Michigan. She loved it."
"(My aunt) loved it too. She got along with the guy that was taking us around the whole weekend we were there… Coach Devin Bush. They got along perfect."
Since then they’ve made their opinions about Michigan clear. When asked where his mother wants him to attend college, Gay didn’t hesitate.
“Michigan,” he replied.
And his aunt?
“Michigan,” said Gay.
Those could be valuable allies for Jim Harbaugh & company and they work to regain the lead. It’s an all hands on deck approach for the Wolverines, with numerous coaches corresponding with Gay regularly.
"I really can't even say (which Michigan coach he speaks with the most),” he said. “I text all of them every single day. They even call my mom sometimes."
Michigan assistant Chris Partridge has been one of the primary contacts as the youngster’s would-be position coach. Wheatley, his area recruiter, and Jim Harbaugh himself have also been prominent voices.
"(Partridge) is a young coach and energetic,” said Gay. “He coached one of my favorite players in high and in this level Jabrill Peppers. I know I can get developed at Michigan with that kind of coach."
"(Wheatley) is cool. He's just real cool. Funny."
"Oh my goodness. Coach Harbaugh… if you didn't know him because he is a big name, you wouldn't know that he's a head coach. He's just so laid back and chill. He doesn't even act like he's the big time coach of Michigan."
Relationships will certainly be significant components in Gay’s ultimate choice, but he is determined to not let emotion dictate the eventual outcome.
"(It will be a ) business decision,” he said. “Where I'm going to be able to get a chance to go to the next level, where I'm going to be developed at the most, chance to play the most, and where I feel at home. I have two more visits left, Mississippi State and LSU. Mississippi State on the 13th and LSU on the 20th."
From there it will be decision time. One factor he insists will play little if any role is distance from home.
Said Gay, "I ain't scared to leave and I ain't scared to stay."