A new offense, a new head coach leaves a lot of questions for two year starter at quarterback Justin Willis.
Willis, who started every game last year under Phil Bennett, finds himself working hard to re-establish himself as not only the starter this fall, but to regain the leadership role he had the past two seasons.
Willis was suspended indefinitely by new head coach June Jones in early February, missing all of spring practice and the opportunity to learn the new offensive system that Jones and company are installing.
Instead of dwelling on past mistakes, Willis is taking a head on approach of regaining his place on the Mustang team. Jones told PonyStampede.com in May that he was allowing Willis to rejoin the team, that the junior to be had completed everything that the new coaching staff had asked of him, including improving his academic status as a student athlete.
"I'm a better person because of everything that happened," Willis said in a recent interview. "Coach Jones came in and made me accountable for my actions on and off the field. They have taught me that what I do off the field is just as important as a leader of this team as what I do on the field of play."
Willis with the help of quarterback coach Dan Morrison has learned the offensive system on his own time, giving up spring break with fellow teammates, instead spending the one on one time with Morrison catching up on what he missed out by not being able to practice.
"I spent spring break on campus with Coach Dan," Willis said. "We went over everything. I can't tell you how much time I have spent in the film room over the past four months."
Instead of being behind everyone headed into fall camp, Willis has a different approach.
"It's my goal to be ahead of everyone else or at least even with them," Willis said. "I have been throwing the ball every day since spring ball. My goal is to be a head or even with everyone else. It's up to me to make sure of it."
Willis has been accepted back to the team by the new coaching staff and more importantly by the teammates he let down by not being at spring practice.
"I feel I let them down by not being out there with them," Willis said. "I'm working hard to regain each one of their respect back. It's very important to me to do this. I also want to earn Coach Jones' respect. I have accepted what I did wrong, the players have been great. They respect how hard I have been working, in the weight room, in the classroom and in the film room."
It's apparent that Willis is glad to be back on the team this fall.
"It's hard to put in words," Willis said. "I'm so thankful for the opportunity. I don't plan on wasting it. I didn't realize how much it meant to me to be the starting quarterback at SMU until I lost it. Now it's up to me to get it back. I love this school, I love my teammates and I'm excited about this upcoming season."
Publisher note: This is Part 1 of a two part series on Justin Willis. On Monday we will look at what he thinks of the new offense and how he feels he will fit in.