Take your time. You'll need it.
"I can't think of anyone off my head that he reminds me of," College of the Desert coach Dean Dowty pondered. "He's more of a physical corner. He can come up and get in your face and that type of guy who can disrupt things. There aren't many guys out there like that and that's why he's a pretty hot commodity."
Willingham was a hot commodity coming out of high school in Calhoun, S.C., and was close to signing with the Georgia Bulldogs. However academic shortcomings altered his plans and rerouted his football career to Desert Springs, Calif.
"Georgia and Louisville recruited me coming out of high school," Willingham explained. "I was going to go to Georgia but I ended up not qualifying. That's when I came out here to junior college. My high school coach asked me if I wanted to go D-I and I said I did. So he got me in contact with College of the Desert and I came out here last season. It doesn't really matter to me where I play, out here, down south, I just want to play D-I."
Ironically, for DeAngelo to realize his lifelong dream of playing in the SEC he had to had to spend a couple of years on the west coast. However he returns to his southern roots this weekend when he takes an official visit to Tennessee. It could be the consummation of a courtship that began in September.
"Since the third game of the season we started talking back and forth," he said. "They were real interested and I was real interested too because that's close to home and that's the SEC."
"I want a good education," said Willingham who is plans to major in sociology. "Football wise I want a good relationship with the coaches and players. Being able to come in and play right away will have a lot to do with it. Tennessee is attractive to me because it's close to home and I like the competition." Willingham has other offers and a lot of interest from other prominent programs, including Washington, Syracuse, Nebraska and California, but none of those schools play in the SEC.
Certainly Willingham seems to be tailored for SEC play. Besides his linebacker size and sprinter's speed, he is excellent in transition and breaks on the ball well. He intercepted three passes in his freshman year and added five interceptions as a sophomore. Most significantly, he is a good match for the large wideouts.
"Most corners with his speed are 178 (pounds) and 5-10," said Dowty. "He's 6-foot tall, 200 pounds and runs a 4.3. He's got real long arms. He can be physical in bump and run. He just runs well. Syracuse's linebacker coach was in here the other day and thought he was a linebacker."
Willingham would have three years to play two seasons on the next level, but he won't graduate until May.
"Coach Fulmer and Coach Atkins told me I would get a chance," he said. "They said it really didn't matter if I finished at the break or in May. We still are recruiting you to come in and start. He didn't guarantee I'd start but he told me I would have a good opportunity to start."
If DeAngelo Willingham does start for Tennessee his story will have a Hollywood ending.