He was young, but Roswell (Ga.) athlete Malik Willis still remembers the first time he set foot in Lane Stadium.
Willis was there for a game when he was seven years old, to watch his uncle, James Anderson. The former Virginia Tech linebacker last played for the Hokies in 2005 before playing with the Atlanta Falcons, Tennessee Titans, Chicago Bears and Carolina Panthers.
Willis remembers plenty from that game. And when he returned to visit as a recruit Saturday, plenty of memories flooded back.
The familiarity Willis had with Virginia Tech certainly played a part in his commitment to the Hokies Saturday. Other factors did as well, including the potential Virginia Tech sees in him. But Willis’ previous experience did help.
“I remember when I was seven, it was just so loud,” he said. “It was exciting. It let me know I wanted to be there. I wanted to be in some college stadium somewhere.”
There were 13 offers in total for Willis, including Southern Miss, Navy and Tulane. But he said he never considered any of them, nor did he visit any this spring.
“I liked how open and transparent the coaches were,” Willis said of the Hokies. “They were honest and I liked the feel of the place. It was just a friendly environment, a nice to take in your college experience.”
Willis earned his offer from Virginia Tech after he competed in the Hokies’ satellite camp June 8 in Atlanta. And while they were on his radar before, they were even more in focus after that.
“I didn’t hear from them before the camp, except once or twice in the mail,” Willis said. “I did great there. The said I ran 4.4 and 4.13 in shuttle. Then, I did pretty good in the competition, I started out at quarterback, then I ran some routes and I caught everything.”
It was at that camp that Willis began to know assistant coach Zohn Burden more, too. Burden was his primary recruiter and impressed Willis with his approach.
“My dad is a good judge of character and I guess he passed that along to me,” Willis said. “Coach Burden seemed straight forward. He let me know what the deal was and how the coaching staff how viewed me and what they were thinking about.”
But Virginia Tech hasn’t decided what position Willis will play. For now, he has the athlete tag, after he played and excelled at safety, wide receiver, then quarterback, in successive seasons.
“They’ve talked about me playing every position,” Willis said. “That’s what I liked, too, the versatility of me going there. It doesn’t matter what I play, I’m just trying to get on the field. I’m really gonna play the depth chart game when I get there.”
Willis is set on improving his all-around game, which should help in any situation.
“I have confidence in my play and I have the work to back it up,” he said. “I really wasn’t trying to think about who else is going there, other than seeing what I’m gonna do when I get there. It really doesn’t matter what position. I mean, I like offense, because I like scoring. But I like defense, too, because I like picking the ball off.
“Out of every position, I think I need to focus on DB, just in case. But I know I’m still gonna be doing quarterback and receiver stuff. So I’ll just be working on hips and all that stuff.”
Willis also might not be done with his recruitment entirely. On July 16, Willis plans to see Auburn and said he’ll likely take more visits this summer to cement a decision. But the Hokies will be tough to beat.
“I mean, I’m still gonna look around more, because I still have a year until I go to Virginia Tech,” he said. “But I’m pretty sure. I’m just gonna do a couple of visits.”
Anderson might offer some advice, wherever Willis chooses as his final spot. After Saturday’s decision, Anderson seems to be all on board.
“He was very excited,” Willis said. “He won’t tell me, though. He doesn’t wanna be an influence. He told my mom, though. He was happy when I said it without him telling me to. He was excited without recruiting me, basically.”