RECRUITING: Cougs re-land star from Tacoma

CONSIDER IT AN early Christmas present. is breaking great news for ye crimson faithful with the announcement that one of the most touted prospects from last year's recruiting class has secured a qualifying SAT score and will be enrolling in Pullman in January. CF.C talks with <b>Michael Willis</b> about this long-awaited day.

Michael Willis, a phenomenal two-way performer from Tacoma's Lincoln High, told he is thrilled -- absolutely thrilled -- to be launching his Cougar career.

"On a scale of one to 10 -- I'd say about a 20," Willis laughed.

Willis had friends and acquaintances in and around Tacoma surprised to see him this winter -- they thought he would be at WSU. Talking to them about why he wasn't in Pullman helped motivate Willis, but not as much as the motivation that came from within.

"Even without that, I wanted to do this for myself. It's always been a goal of mine -- I have always said I wanted to go to college and play college ball. I saw it out there and I had to go get it."

Ultimately and with the support of his family, Willis made it happen. But he made it quite clear he feels this is but a beginning. He's adamant that he wants to have a great career in the classroom as well as on the field. It's not enough to him just to make it in.

"It's a big relief -- to feel its been lifted off my shoulders just to know that I'm in there now. I just needed one foot in the door and I'm not going to disappoint."

"I'm not satisified. I'm going to get over there -- and I know I don't have anything to prove to anybody -- but I'm happy that I get to go and start over with a clean slate."

From the moment he arrives in Pullman, before classes even start, Willis will be learning. He'll be seeking advice on school and football, gleaning all the learned wisdom he can from the players who are going through, or have gone through, the journey he is just now beginning.

"I'm a baby in the game. I'm just trying to learn. I've talked to a couple of their players and some of them are going to be graduating but they're still going to be there. They'll be there and working out before they graduate, getting ready for their NFL combine. So I'm going to stay up under them -- I'm going to learn all I can from them. And they can give me pointers, things to look out for and tips and what-not."

MAKE NO MISTAKE -- this is huge.

Insiders a year ago told CF.C that the Cougs had unquestionably landed two bona-fide stars -- players of the caliber that could have made an immediate impact at virtually any college in the nation.

One was Michael Bumpus. The other was Michael Willis.

A long time recruiting observer this winter told that had Willis prepped somewhere in California or Florida instead of Tacoma, he would have garnered a five star rating.

"It's mind-boggling that Willis didn't receive the same type of in-state hype that Larry Stevens and Paul Arnold enjoyed around the state of Washington a few years back. Absolutely mind boggling."

Other long-time followers of both the state of Washington prep ranks -- and Cougar football -- expect Willis to make a serious push for immediate playing time in the WSU secondary in '05.

Don't be surprised if he starts. He's that good.

Simply put, the 6-3, 205-pound Willis is a tremendous athlete capable of making an immediate impact on the gridiron for Washington State.

At WSU's summer camp, a pass was thrown deep downfield. Willis, defending on the play and far away on the opposite side of the field, took off after it. It would have been amazing had he just gotten to the ball. But not only did he get there, he leapt, grabbed it and then all in one motion, came down and took off on a dead sprint for the other end zone. He went untouched.

And mouths dropped.

Regarded as one of the most feared hitters in the region from his safety spot, the Tacoma native may have actually received more honors and accolades on the offensive side of the ball, piling up 1,207 all-purpose yards and 10 touchdowns his senior season.

Willis is more than capable of earning significant early playing time on either side of the ball for the Cougs. But with one of the biggest needs at safety this coming year, it appears the Cougar defensive backfield will be the likely destination for the former Lincoln High star and newest member of the Washington State family.

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