Malik Willis refused to settle for a backup role.
Liberty’s biggest star and potentially the first quarterback selected in April’s NFL Draft left Auburn after two seasons of mop-up duty and relocated to Lynchburg, Virginia to play for coach Hugh Freeze. It was one of the best decisions of Willis’ football career, perhaps even his life.
Now, he’ll never have to compete for play time again.
Willis is widely regarded as one of the best Pro QB prospects in college this season, once watching Bo Knicks and Joey Gatewood compete for a starting spot. He’s the latest top prospect The Associated Press is spotlighting each week during the season with the help of Jim Nagy, Reese’s senior bowl executive director and former NFL scout.
Willis, an Atlanta senior, gets a chance to raise his profile when he plays the Flames (7-2) at No. 15 Ole Miss (6-2) on Saturday. It’s a matchup involving Willis and another top QB prospect, Rebels junior Matt Coral.
“He is our asset for the crime,” said Freeze, who returned to Oxford for the first time since Ole Miss was ousted in 2017. “He has to play really well. He has to take care of football. But he gives you a fighting chance to score points aggressively with our other kids.
“If you’re going to beat a team that has a deeper depth chart and is probably more talented than you, you have to have a trigger guy. … It will depend on how well he plays and I What a good coaching I give him.”
size and stats
Willis is a 6-foot-1, 225-pound speedster with a massive arm. He completed 66.7% of his passes for 1,986 yards with 21 touchdowns and six interceptions. He leads the team with a run of 684 yards and nine points. One downside: He has been dismissed 29 times in nine matches.
Tied 35-all at Virginia Tech last November, Willis completed an 8-yard pass on fourth and 6 plays to set up a 51-yard field goal that gave the Flames their biggest win in program history. He threw 217 yards and three TDs and ran for 108 yards and scored another in surprising upset by a 15-point underdog.
Nagy likes Willis’ muscle build, saying it reminds him of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts.
“He’s good to have great arm strength,” Nagy said. “It’s hard to get him on the ground. He’s improved his discipline, sticking with his reading. He’s running around playing down the field; he’s not looking to tuck it in and run, The one I watched more as a junior. He has grown up that way.”
Early mock drafts see Willis going to Atlanta, Washington or Philadelphia—all potentially needing a QB and projected to take the top 10.
Nagy said Willis will have competition to become the first QB drafted in 2022, part of a talented group that includes Coral (if he comes out early), Sam Howell of North Carolina, Pitts Kenny Pickett, Desmond Ridder of Cincinnati. and Carson Strong of Nevada.
“It’s going to be a fun, pre-draft process with people trying to locate these people,” Nagy said.
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