Willie Gay has had a storybook high school career. He has helped Starkville to a State Championship, two state championship appearances, and a 32-4 record along the way. The two time All-State selection has chipped in 166 tackles, 35 for a loss, and eight interceptions along the way. Thursday he was awarded for his on and off the field accomplishments.
"It's just a blessing," Gay said. "I'm just proud to say I'm apart of this game. I've dreamed of playing in this game since I watched Reggie Bush and A.P. (Adrian Peterson).. There's been a lot of big names to play in this game. To add my name to the list is just truly an honor."
Starkville head coach Ricky Woods took over the head coaching duties when Willie was a sophomore. It didn't take him long to know he had something special in the 6-foot-2, 220-pound linebacker.
"You read about players before you even get there," coach Woods said. "But Willie is a great player. It didn't take long. But really he got better the last five games of the year last season."
What allowed Willie to make that jump at the end of last season?
"Well, he just got smarter. You get older and you get a little bigger and a little stronger and he's always had elite speed. He's the fastest player on our team and has been since I arrived. Every play and rep you take you are going to get better. The knowledge of his game has increased too."
Ricky Woods has coached a lot of great ones throughout his career and several that have gone on to have successful pro careers. Gay is on that level.
"If I had to pick the top ten players I've coached he would certainly be one of them. Oh yea, he's deserving of being picked in this game. He's one of the elite players in the nation. There's no doubt. He's on the level of the top ones I've ever coached. I think I've had six all americans, and Willie is one of those that deserve it. He's right up there near the top."
As good of a player that Willie is on the field he's just as big of a leader off of it.
"He's a good person. All the kids like him. All the coaches like him. All his teachers like him. He doesn't get in any trouble at school. He'll do well wherever he goes. There's no doubt in my mind he's going to be a good player in college. You sorta have to be a responsible person. You have to act like you are supposed to act and mature like you are supposed to mature. There are a lot of things that can deter people. Lots of people try and bring good players down that aren't good players. I think you have to have some intellect to make it to the big leagues and Willie has all of those attributes."
Scout's No. 92 overall rated player in the country committed to Ole Miss back in June. He's been a regular on the Ole Miss campus this fall. He's attended three home games for the Rebels.
"It's always a lovely time when I'm in Oxford. I just watch how they play and try and work on the things that I need to work on so when I get there I can make an impact. I'm just continuing to try and be a fast linebacker, put on a few pounds and muscle, and get smarter so I can make the adjustment for the next level."
The Rebels have struggled at linebacker this season and Willie sees an opportunity to bring them some immediate help.
"I watched a lot of their games this season, and I really think I can make an impact early at Ole Miss. Even if I don't play in the first few games, I think I'll get in there and make an impact early over there at Ole Miss. They are decent at linebacker, but they could be a lot better. That's one of the reasons Alabama won that game because of their linebacker play, in my opinion. I just see that opportunity there (at Ole Miss) so I'm going to take it."
Despite his commitment Willie scheduled some official visits outside of Ole Miss. Has anything changed with his commitment?
"I'm still a pretty hard commitment, but I'm still leaving my options open. That's why I'm taking a look at Florida (11/12), Florida State (10/29), Michigan (10/22) and Mississippi State (11/5).
What cracked the door open for Ole Miss' competition?
"I'm still committed, but I'm keeping an open mind with those other four schools too. I want to see what everybody has to offer. If I want to take my game and go to the next level, knowing that schools like Michigan and Florida and Florida State. Mississippi State, of course. Those schools produce pretty good defensive players, and that is what I pay attention too."
The Rebels have been under an NCAA investigation but Willie is not concerned about that topic.
"Oh no, I don't even think about that stuff. That doesn't play a role in my decision at all. It's all about just going to the place that I feel the most comfortable."
What stands out about Ole Miss right now?
"Ole Miss, well, just seeing an opportunity there and trying to fill a spot that they really need. I just want to make an early impact, and I think I can do that at Ole Miss. I also have a great relationship with their coaches. I talk to them all the time. Coach Dave Wommack, their defensive coordinator, we are really close. I have a great relationship with coach (Hugh) Freeze as well and Barney (Farrar) too. I talk to all of their coaches, even their offensive line coach. I just have a different kind of relationship with those guys."
Is there anything else Willie needs to see from Ole Miss to seal the deal?
"Really, I've seen it all. I love the atmosphere up there. Just going to their games or just being up there in Oxford. I just love being up there. I love watching them practice and play in games. There's nothing that beats it, really. It's already sucked me in."
What stands out about Mississippi State?
"Knowing that staying at home isn't a bad thing, but I'm trying to make the best decision for myself. I'm trying to see where I can be developed as a linebacker, mostly."
Michigan will receive his first official visit next weekend.
"I have not been up there. It's my first official on the 22nd (of October). Just the players that they have had and produced. They have sent them to the NFL and the coaching. Of course coach (Jim) Harbrough is a good coach. Playing under someone like that, you can't beat it."
How about Florida?
"I'm going down there for my first time in the middle of November for my official visit. I've been watching Florida for a few years now. They have had some pretty decent linebackers like Jared Davis this year. Antonio Morrison went to the NFL last year. I feel like if I went to Florida I could develop and become a better linebacker."
"I go down there the weekend after my Michigan visit. Watching guys like Telvin Smith. They develop linebackers also."
If Willie had a message for the Ole Miss fans right now what would it be?
"There's a good chance I'll be in Oxford next year."
Yancy Porter is the recruiting analyst for the Ole Miss Spirit and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org