Spring Preview: Willis Interview

Brandon Willis talks about how difficult the past two years have been, how he feels about the switch to a 3-4, and what he thinks about new defensive line coach Angus McClure...

Q: You've now had two years where you've been kind of relegated to the sidelines. How much are you looking forward to getting out there in spring with a chance of earning a spot?

A: It's been far too long man. Far too long. I'm so excited about it.

Q: How tough was it sitting out last year?

A: It was tough. Even though you know that the risk of transferring and not getting a waiver signed is that you might have to sit out, you never picture a whole year of not competing and not being in the game playing. So for that to go on for me twice, it's kind of hard to deal with. But I knew that my time was coming, and I've got three years left, so I have a lot of football ahead of me. So I'm just trying to be prepared for when my number's called. That's basically how I've taken the situation.

Q: Was there any point where you got particularly discouraged, not being able to play?

A: Yeah, just things weren't going how I planned it. You know, when you plan your future, being a top recruit, you're used to having an impact where you're at. And being that I couldn't step on the field, and nobody could see me, it was kind of like a setback. It kind of made me humble myself, actually, so I felt like it was a good experience in a way for me to not take this for granted, because not playing is probably the worst thing that I've ever felt in all my years, being that I started playing football from flag til now. It was hard. Lots of long talks with my dad, just, "Man, how could this happen?" But I got through it. It's been discouraging at times, but it's been a good experience for the most part. I feel like everything happens for a reason. God has written my path, and I just have to ride it out.

Q: Do you think the time off has allowed you more time to get bigger and stronger?

A: Yeah, I mean, I feel like I've been the size that I needed to be since after my first spring at North Carolina. I got up to 285. I'm at 280 right now, and 290 is where I want to play at. So, I feel like I've been the size. During practice, being that I was on the scout team most of the time, I've done well. It's hard when coaches see you, and you've been playing, and they know they can't even use you. I've been ready, I feel like, to play, it's just that I haven't been able to.

Q: I was talking to Coach McClure about you, and he said he doesn't really know yet where he wants you, but that he expects you to start the spring at end, and then possibly get some time at nose. Has he talked to you about that?

A: Yeah, being that, when I was in high school, we played in a similar 3-4 front, and I have from then of nose, and I played defensive end. So I'm pretty strong against the run, being that I feel I have a very good lower body, and I get off well. Also I feel like I want to make myself as diverse as I can. I don't want to come off the field. I want to be in the nickel package, the dime package, whatever package they've got, so I'm trying to make myself as useful as I can. So wherever they want me, I'm down. They have put me at end now, but just a couple of weeks ago Coach Angus said he wants me to learn both, so I don't know what will be what as it trickles down, but right now on the depth chart they have me at end behind Cassius Marsh right now, so I mean, we'll see how everything trickles out.

Q: Is there a position you prefer?

A: I see myself as more of a three technique. But I feel like I can play on the outside, and I can play on the inside as well. But I'm more comfortable on the inside.

Q: If you would play nose, that's kind of why you'd want to be at least 290, right?

A: Yeah, if it was solidified that I was playing nose and that's what it was going to be, I'd probably get up to 290, 295, to be able to play on pass downs and be able to hold the line on both ends.

Q: Do you think you can easily gain another 10 to 15 pounds, without sacrificing too much?

A: Yeah, during the season last year, I was actually 300 pounds when I first came back from North Carolina. They had me at the three technique, and in the ACC it's more run heavy than the Pac-12 is. So when I first got here I was 300, and I felt like I was running well, and conditioned well. I felt like I held my own, it was good. It takes a little time when you fluctuate weight to get comfortable, but I'll do whatever it takes. Whatever it takes.

Q: Being a natural three technique, how do you feel about the switch to a 3 man front?

A: I feel like it's more of a linebacker setting, but I like the three man front because I feel like it gives the defensive linemen more room. It's harder for offensive linemen to pick up, if you're running it well, and it gives you more space to work to create air. So it could be good, and I guess it could be bad at times if you're more of a stat guy, but me, I'm more of a good play guy. As long as I'm doing my job, and I'm making the plays that are coming to me, and I'm doing what's required of me, I'm fine. The goal is for us to have a great defense. As long as we have a great defense, and you're in it for the team, good things will come your way. I'm not much of a selfish player, I just want to be a part of a great defense. If this is what it's going to take, and this is going to take us to the top, then I'm with it, 100%.

Q: About Coach McClure, when you heard Angus was being named the defensive line coach, what was your initial reaction?

A: It was kind of awkward when I first heard, being that he was the offensive line coach, but I know the coach Angus has a background coaching from all different perspectives. So, the biggest thing for a coach is to mentor you and to know the game, and I feel like he knows the game. Being a defensive lineman, there's only so much you can do. It's more about instinct. You can only rip, swim and push, to be honest. At this position, I feel like there is a lot you do need to learn, but at the same time, I don't feel like you need to play the game twenty years to teach it. You feel me? I feel like we've got good players in place. I feel like he does know the techniques, and what to look for, being that I've talked to him in comparison to defensive line coaches that I've had in the past. I feel like Coach Angus is going to be a good coach. He's a fiery guy, he's going to get us going. He's an up tempo guy, and I feel like if we're high tempo out there and everybody's working, and with the coaches around him, everybody's going to have their input, so I don't feel like that's going to be that much of a problem, as much as some people may see. An offensive line coach coaching defensive line? I kind of feel like that's a good thing. He can teach us what to look for, what an offensive line coach can do. I feel like our game plan is going to be a lot more clear on the fronts we're going to face.

Q: How've the workouts been?

A: Coach Alosi's great. He brings that all business attitude that they have in the League. The numbers that he has recorded for us have been phenomenal so far. But we're just getting through phase one, and there's more to come. I'm excited for it, because at North Carolina we had some NFL type strength coaches, and for that to occur here, it's good too. I love the weight room. I love strength and conditioning, seeing my body transform. And that's what he's doing. We're doing the bod pod all the time. We're leaning out. People are getting faster. We're developing more functional strength. I feel like this program is working and I'm excited for what's to come.

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