Last spring should have been the best of times for Michael Willey and his family. Winning a state championship in the 300 hurdles allowed him to join the family ranks as a top track athlete. Following in his fathers, uncle and grandfathers footsteps by winning a state title (all in Iowa) in an event he'd never participated in until this year was looked as a special feat. But for Willey, the most special feat and battle wasn't coming from any athletic field, it was at home where his father was battling a life threatening health ailment.
During these times was the first time I'd received the chance to meet Michael Willey. And what I learned from his early is he's going to be one of these kids that are going to find great success on and off the field in the years to come.
New Miamisburg head football coach Zack Cline and I sat down to talk about his top players and if he felt there were any players with the talent to play football at the college level. Cline wasted little time in naming a few of his players. As we spoke about each of them, the new head coach and I keep coming back to Michael Willey and his overall ability. Cline knows he's got a couple of special players on his roster, but Willey was showing great improvement in track and the times he was posting we're starting to open a few eyes.
I then got the chance to sit down with several of the seniors to-be including Michael Willey. What I took away from that first meeting set the tone of what I was about to see.
Before leaving I received a copy of some highlight tape of several of the Miamisburg players. Later that night I threw the tape in and was struck hard with what I was seeing from Willey. I knew from our meeting he stood about 6-foot-1 and had a solid athletic build. But from the tape I saw a guy making plays on the defensive side of the ball and on occasion getting the ball in his hands. It was there I first saw what everyone was talking about, Michael Willey not only had speed on the track, he had it on the football field. He also displayed great physical abilities and toughness. It was then I made plans to return to Miamisburg High School to get more information.
In talking with Michael I stressed he needed to camp to show college coaches his overall skills if he had dreams of earning a football scholarship. He agreed, but stressed he didn't know if under the circumstances he'd be attending many camps or combines.
During this time things started to move on the track front as both Ohio State and Iowa came offering scholarships. But football hadn't seen the talent and it was then Willey knew he needed to take the next step.
Late in July, Willey would make a trip to Akron for one of their football camps. Within twenty-four hours of him leaving their camp he would hold his first scholarship offers.
"I tried to get to a couple of camps but the one's I attended I never really got a chance to run. At Akron I was able to post a 40-time and the first one I ran the coaches said there was no way I could have run that time. The time was 4.1 so they asked me to run again. This time I posted a 4.3 and the coaches still didn't think they'd worked the watches right and asked if I'd run one more time. When I posted the next time it was the same as the second at 4.3 and you could tell they had some interest."
Willey returned home and received a text message from Coach Mauro Monz asking him to call them.
"I got the texted and called them. Coach Monz said the staff liked what they saw of me as an athlete and person and would I like to be a Zip. They offered me a scholarship and I think it was the most exciting moment of my life. I've dreamed since I was a little boy about playing college football, and now a team was telling me I had enough talent to do so."
Akron is looking at Willey as a combo-athlete as he's shown them enough to look at him as a defensive back or wide receiver. For Willey he's going to have to make a few choices in the coming months.
"I've worked hard and our team has worked hard to have a great season this fall. We have a great senior class and I'm proud to be part of this program. I hope I get the chance to show a few other programs I've got enough talent to play football for them and can pick up a few more offers, but I've also got to keep in mind the scholarship offers from Ohio State, Iowa and Hillsdale for track."
"Track excites me and in a way I'm torn between them. I've always dreamed of playing college football and I want to be able to dedicate myself to the sport I chose. But I've learned the most important thing for me is to do what is going to make me happy. We only live once and I want to make the most out of any opportunity I'll have in it."
As Miamisburg prepares for their upcoming season Michael Willey knows life is going to have its ups and downs. Not only does Michael Willey shine on the track and football field, he also does the work in the classroom carrying a 3.2 core and having received a 22 on his test score.
Right now life is up for the Willey family as they've just received news Michael's father received excellent test results and given a 100% clearance on the life threatening illness. Willey hopes to cap off his senior season helping the Vikings to a great season as he'll take his spot at safety and a little wide receiver here and there. After football Michael will start to work on defending his track championship before leaving for college.
"I've been very lucky to have the chance to play football here at Miamisburg. We have a very tight group of seniors who want to lay the foundation for the next group of players. Coach Cline and the other coaches have worked hard since getting the head job here and have tried to help us any way they can."
I'm sure this will not be the last article you'll see on Michael Willey over the course of the next few months. I fully expect him to pick up more offers in the coming weeks as he'll get the chance to show his talents.
Here are some photos taken during our visit with Michael Willey.