Willis: 'This is hopefully just the start'

Linebacker Patrick Willis gives his takes on being selected to the NFC squad for this year's Pro Bowl in his rookie season.

Q: Patrick, how did you find out you were going to the Pro Bowl?
Willis:
We (were) just in defensive meetings just awhile ago and Coach Nolan just stopped and opened up both doors and started reading out (names), he said we have two for sure and six alternates. He said the first one which is Andy Lee. And then the second one, you never know if he's going to call my name and he just called my name. Then he named off all the other ones.

Q: Is this something you expected?
Willis:
I didn't know it was going to be announced today. I thought it was (going to be) announced on Wednesday. The whole time I just kept an open mind because I know that I'm a rookie and I know sometimes being the younger guy, they always say ‘well he has awhile, so maybe we'll just wait till next year and see what he does next year.' So I just kept an open mind and if I didn't make it I'd just continue to work and work even harder.

Q: Can you tell that you've earned a lot of respect from the people you've played against?
Willis:
A little bit you know. I heard some of the stuff that Chad Johnson had said the other day. For him, a guy who's been in the league for awhile, he's been against a lot of defensive guys, and for him to speak on me the way he did, you know that really meant a lot. To have guys like Ray Lewis and just other coaches at the games say ‘continue to work and you're going to be a good player in this league.' Just to hear them say stuff like that, I know that I'm doing something right. But I still know that I have a lot of work ahead of me, that I've got to keep working hard each day.

Q: Patrick, when you think of the word Pro Bowl what comes to your mind?
Willis:
Right now I'm just still smiling. I can't really believe that I'm actually getting to go over there my first year. It's a blessing. It's something that's not talked about besides towards the end of the season. It's after the Super Bowl and stuff like that. I never really knew a lot about it. So now knowing that it's a big deal and that's it's selected on by coaches and teammates and by different people, it really means a lot."

Q: Since it's your first year does it kind of give you a standard now to shoot for the rest of your career?
Willis:
The Pro Bowl is good. But foremost it's about winning games. For right now, to me, it's all about winning here for the program. So I just want to continue to work hard and do everything I can to try to help my team and help the organization get better.

Q: In your mind what do you think it is that got you to the Pro Bowl?
Willis:
It's a combination of everything. First of all, I'd just like to start with my teammates, my teammates are tremendous guys. I mean that defensive line has played great all year and especially being in a 3-4, people know how tough that can be, but they've played well all year. And my linebacker crew; Derek Smith, Jeff Ulbrich and Brandon Moore, they've really been helpful to me this year, (it) being my first year. When I ha ave question they will answer as many questions as I have. Coach Singletary, with his coaching, just teaching me how to play with technique, how to be a better linebacker. And than Coach Manusky, his defensive schemes are good. So it's a little bit of everything. I'd just like to thank my coaches and my teammates to help me get where I am today.

Q: The last 49ers rookie to be named to the Pro Bowl was Ronnie Lott in 1981. When you hear that what crosses your mind?
Willis:
I didn't know that until now. Ronnie Lott was a great player for many years here and a well respected player. This is hopefully just the start. This is only for a moment, when that Pro Bowl is over, then you have to get right back into working and training and doing the things you can to make sure you're ready to start again.

Q: When do you think people see when you are making the big hits and big plays?
Willis:
I don't think too much into it when people say ‘good hit' or ‘man you're playing well, you're doing well,' just different stuff like that. I just stop and I say ‘thank you Lord.' I say ‘thank you Lord because without your blessing and the ability that you give to me to play the game, none of this would be possible.' People congratulate me but I just give it all back to God and thank him and give him the praise, glory and honor. And that's how I deal with it.

Q: You thank a lot of your teammates for getting you there but how do you feel about representing the defense there at the Pro Bowl?
Willis
I feel honored. I know the Pro Bowl, a lot of times, is not anything crazy. Last year watching it, it was more like to go there and have a good time. I mean of course you want to win, I think people that win get more money. It's a time to go there and just be a good sportsman and just represent your team in a positive way and that's what I'm going to go do. I'm going to go there and represent the 49ers in the best way I can.

Q: How special is it to get to go to the Pro Bowl in your first year?
Willis:
It's special. I mean it's special in the sense that this game is not about seniority, it's not about how long you've played, it's about how productive you've been this year. I'm really thankful for that. That shows that hard work doesn't go unnoticed. That just puts more fuel to the fire, to continue to work and press and good things will come of it.

Q: Do you feel that some of your hard work goes unnoticed because the team isn't having the greatest of seasons?
Willis:
Regardless of whether I made it to the Pro Bowl or not, I mean, just being here, just being a 49er and being in that locker room with my teammates, I feel like that's already a big accomplishment for me alone. So to get this, it's a little better but I'm not banking on saying ‘because I made the Pro Bowl that it makes this season worth being here.' I mean if I didn't make it I would still say I'm happy to be a 49er and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

Q: Patrick, your match-up with Adrian Peterson this year got a lot of hype and you obviously came out on top in that game. Do you think that helped voters and national media open their eyes to you?
Willis:
I really don't know. Like I said it's my first go round. Obviously, it takes good plays. But as far as smaller things here and there, who you go against, how you do, this and that, I don't know how that works. Like I said, I have no control of that and I never thought anymore of that game, besides that day that we played. I don't really know if what happened that game effected this decision but whatever it was that effected (it), I'm thankful.

Q: With two more games to go in the season, how important is it to you to finish as the league's leading tackler? Is that a personal goal these last few weeks?
Willis: No, not one time when I'm out there do I think ‘I've got to make twenty tackles' I don't think about none of that. All I think about is just doing what I can to help this team win. If that means getting ten tackles, whatever the statistics (may) be when the games over, if we play well and we won, then I feel like I've done my job, but if we didn't win, I don't care how many tackles I had, I don't care what the statistics say, I don't feel good at all and that's just me. I mean if I finish the league in leading tackles then that's great and if we finish strong and win our last two games, but if not, then I won't think anymore of it.



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