WSU's Michael Willis: The picture of perseverance

<b>THE LAST HURDLE in the path of Cougar Michael Willis has been cleared, the strong safety having received the SAT Board and NCAA's blessing. The phenom will suit up in the crimson and gray beginning with fall camp and the Tacoma native is in line to do the rarest of rare -- contend for a starting position as a true freshman.

And even should Willis (6-3, 215) not start on Opening Day, he'll add much needed quality depth to the position. Right now, the Cougars rotation at the safety positions figures to be Eric Frampton, Husain Abdullah, JC transfer DeWayne Patterson and true cornerback Omowale Dada, who is taking turns at safety for depth reasons.

MICHAEL WILLIS learned he had passed the SAT -- again -- on April 7. There is still paperwork to complete, but Willis, who is taking classes at WSU and has remained 100 percent committed to the Cougs from Day One, will finally be allowed to suit up for Wazzu later this summer when fall camp opens.

"I signed my name on the dotted line," Willis told CF.C previously, referencing his 2004 letter of intent to WSU. "I'm a man of my word. Plus, they stuck with me through a lot of stuff."

Willis was asked to take the test again at the request of the SAT Board, who had red flagged his passing score at the end of 2004. Note: The NCAA Clearinghouse was not the impediment in this case, it was the SAT Board. It's been a long journey to get to this point. Willis did not achieve a qualifying test score in time to enroll at WSU in the fall of '04. He spent the fall months working his tail off getting his academic house in order. And when Willis took the test in December, he prepared with a tutor and studied for the SAT itself, not just the content.

Willis achieved such a high score, the SAT board questioned it. For Willis, an intelligent and thoughtful young man, the difference in preparation was like finding a key to a locked door. And after he blew it off its hinges, the powers that be partially closed it again.

Because the SAT board would not initially certify his score, Willis was ineligible to receive scholarship assistance from Washington State and was forced to pay his own way this term. As noted, there is still paperwork to complete but Willis will be wearing the crimson and gray and laying the hat out on the Palouse later this summer.

ITS A RARE PLAYER who can, as a true freshman, sit atop veteran upperclassmen on the depth chart. Rarer still, is a true freshman who can start. Safety is not a position that lends itself to early playing time. But Willis is such a player.

There will undoubtedly be some rust to shake off, Willis hasn't played since the 2003 season. But it is expected Willis will quickly return to the form -- and beyond -- that made him the Cougs No. 1 target during the 2004 recruiting wars.

Another salient point has come out of this. Some players who have difficulty in achieving a qualifying SAT score can make quantum leaps with the proper help -- whether that be a tutor or other assistance.

Studying for the SAT itself, in addition to the subject matter, can make a world of difference and did so in the case of Willis. Of course, it may take an interminably long time for the SAT board to certify such improvement.

And the bottom line here is this -- Willis is a player who bleeds crimson and gray and possesses uncommon talent..a player who has now been granted final clearance to embark on his career at Washington State. And that's something worth celebrating.

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