SE: Willis Works to Complete Game, End Career on Strong Note

When Jordan Willis decided to play football at K-State, he did it knowing it would force the best out of him — whatever that may be. 

Willis, an avid NASCAR fan, has picked up steam with every lap he’s made in college football. The senior defensive end and Preseason All-Big 12 pick this year doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon, either. 

“It’s allowed me to really grow,” Willis said of his time at K-State. “It’s allowing me to become everything that I could be as a player, and I still got plenty of time.”

So far, Willis’ time with the Wildcats has displayed an upward trend across the board. 

To start, Willis developed into one of the most prepared players on the team. It is a large part of his personality, evident throughout his daily routine. 

“Before 6 a.m., workouts, he has breakfast ready for the whole household. Most of us would just go grab a banana or something,” said senior safety Dante Barnett. “He wakes up early enough to cook a full breakfast. That tells his approach to the game.”

Willis’ game preparation stands out as well. On game weeks, Barnett has often caught Willis watching film before the scheduled sessions, getting as many looks at the opposing team’s offensive line as possible. 

“He knows about every offensive linemen across the board every week,” Barnett said. “I know a lot of the younger players say, ‘I’ll go to Jordan to ask him about a pass rush and he knows the answer, or he tries to help me or he tells me to use this move and I use it and it works.’

“When you have a player like that that players can listen to about different techniques, that’s perfect.”

His production on the field has increased steadily as well, starting with nine games of action as a true freshman. Willis has started every game since then, totaling 25 tackles that included 6.5 tackles for loss and four sacks as a sophomore. The Rockhurst product followed that with 36 tackles last season, including 15.5 for loss and 9.5 sacks.

Echoing Barnett, Willis credited his preparation before games for his improvement in them. 

“Each year, I gained the ability of learning how to play on Saturdays and what I need to do to prepare myself to be good on Saturdays. With each year, I’ve learned to prepare better,” Willis said. “If I prepare well, then I’ll play well, and I’ve been learning how to do that. That’s been a big reason why my production has jumped up through my time here.” 

Though he tallied the second-most sacks in the Big 12 last season, they occurred in just four games, leaving nine others without any. To become a more valuable disruptor, Willis put his focus on developing better consistency for the 2016 season, which begins next Friday at Stanford.  

“All offseason I’ve been focused in on being more consistent with my play and with my attitude so that can translate over to Saturdays,” said Willis, one of 28 players on the preseason watch list for the Ted Hendricks Award, given annually to the top defensive end in the country. “So if I’m consistent, the coaches can expect the same thing, if not more, out of me each Saturday and not less than my best.”

Willis’ maturation might be most evident in his leadership, which he took to another level to become one of K-State’s four captains. Early on, his idea of leadership was to “show up, do my job and lead by example.” Now, he’s leading verbally, a step he wasn’t comfortable with at first but felt was necessary for the team.

“I’ve really forced myself to take on that role. I couldn’t sit back any longer. If I did or the other leaders did, then we’d have a chance at repeating the bad season that we had last year,” he said. “I had to step up and lead a lot more in the offseason, which I felt like all of the leaders, whether it’s captains or player reps, have done a better job of leading the team and then creating even more leadership throughout the offseason.”

Like every year, K-State defensive coordinator Tom Hayes said Willis has taken a step forward to help his team. At this point, he knows to expect nothing less. 

“He’s more vocal. He’s more relaxed. He’s more experienced, and he loves to study the game, that’s a plus, but he loves to prepare his body as well, and that’s a plus,” Hayes said. “He just needs to keep doing more of that and then stay healthy this year and he’ll help our team.”