Willis Quietly Builds Confidence

SEP. 19 -- Priest Willis talks to us about his confidence, his film work, and his coaches' faith in him...

BRO: How do you feel the first few games have gone in terms of your development?

Priest Willis: “I’m taking baby steps forward. We’re trying to get where we want to be as a team, and I’m just trying to reach my goals and my team goals.”

Through the last couple of games especially, it seems like you’ve started to hit your stride. Have you felt that a little bit, and how much of that has been due to increased confidence?

“Yeah, you know, it’s just that the team wants to be at a certain place. In order for us to get there, and for the team to achieve those goals, I had to step my game up and I had to play better, and being confident just kind of came with it. It’s been just Fabian, RG, and Ish working with me, and then me just actually understanding the defense and the offense. The game is not just going out there and playing, there’s so much to it, and that’s what I’ve had to realize. They’ve just tried to help me through it, and I’m not to where I want to be at all, but I’m definitely taking baby steps to where I want to go.”

Going back to high school, you’ve obviously played DB for a while. How much of playing that position boils down to mental toughness and confidence?

“That’s the biggest part, honestly. I finally understood it. It’s technique too, but it’s so much just being confident when you line up across from a guy that he’s not going to beat you. You’ve just go to KNOW he’s not going to beat you, with all the preparation and technique you’ve put in, and Coach Meat has just been preaching that to us, and it’s just the team-wide mindset. The team has been helping me out, and the guys have been helping me out, and I am where I am because of them and because of the coaching.”

Coming in last year, you obviously had a ton of expectations swirling around you with the whole “five-star prospect” thing, and then I know you were a little disappointed with your performance on the field. How did last year help you grow as a player?

“Last year, there were a lot of expectations coming in, but off the field, learning-wise, I thought I had a huge year. On the field, my performance wasn’t where everyone wanted me to be, but growth within the person, I thought I was growing. Maybe I wasn’t growing fast enough, but I was growing at the pace I needed to grow. It’s definitely putting me in the right position now, and last year is last year, and there’s nothing I can do about it now except to get better.”

How much has it helped that the coaching staff has shown confidence in you over the last year and a half?

“Man, it’s big. It’s just knowing that the coaching staff, knowing where they’ve been and the experience they’ve had, and them saying that I can be a Division I corner. You know, just in the back of my head, I was finally like ‘you know, I’m going to make this corner thing work.’ It helped a lot to have them confident in me. When someone believes in you, that’s so big, and the coaching staff has stuck by me. I’m not even close to where I need to be or where I want to be. I still have so much to work on. But these baby steps I’ve taken to get better, it’s really helped. I’m just trying to get better. I’m not even close to where I want to be, like I said.”

Aside from the confidence aspect of the game, what’s the biggest improvement or thing you changed for the better in the offseason?

“Film. I really started to understand film work. I think film and learning where I need to be and where other people are so I can play leverages and that type of stuff are the two biggest thing. It’s the kind of thing where, in this situation, I know I have to be here, and I know I’ll have help under me, and stuff like that. It’s just breaking down film and that’s where I’ve really taken it up a notch this year. And then conditioning-wise, in the Pac-12, they go up-tempo. My conditioning wasn’t all that good last year, but it’s gotten better. Baby steps, but I’m going to get there.”

What has been the feedback you’ve gotten from the coaching staff through the first three games?

“Get better. There’s always something to work on. Through three games, there’s been some stuff I’ve done well, but a lot of stuff I need to work on, the same for every one, so that’s been the feedback.”

In spring, you talked about how you might have felt more comfortable coming in at safety. Where do you stand on that now, and what position do you want to play long term?

“Corner, I feel way more comfortable here now. That said, if the coaches put me at safety, or need me at safety, I’ll definitely be ready and willing. But I’m committed to being a cornerback. I’m confident I can play the position well and be what my team needs me to be. There are no excuses.”

Next week, you’re probably going to spend some of your time in the game against Jaelen Strong, who has earned a reputation as one of the best receivers in the country, and you matched up with him a couple of times last year. Do you kind of relish the opportunity for another chance at him?

“I don’t even think of it as a chance. I just think of it as a competition. I hear he’s the best receiver, and I love to compete with the best. I don’t look at it like ‘another chance’ or that sort of thing, I just look at it as ‘we’re going to compete and get a team win’ and if Jaelen Strong is in the way of that, we’re going to have to do our best to cover him.”

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