On Saturday, when you were watching the Penn State-Minnesota game, you may have noticed #10 playing a little bit of free safety for Penn State. The casual fan quickly reached for the game day program trying to determine just who this kid was. Another freshman getting significant playing time under Joe Paterno? Couldn't be. But it was. The kid you saw making all of those tackles on Saturday (nine) was none other than redshirt freshman Malcolm Willis.
Willis saw increased reps, filling in for the injured Andrew Dailey (stinger). He teamed with Drew Astornio and showed he is an outstanding tackler, something that the team has struggled with all season. Willis should make his first career start on Saturday against Michigan. But the question still remains:
Who is Malcolm Willis? Let's go to the tale of the tape.
Height 5-11 (According to the PSU website, Willis is 5-1, see for yourself)
Class: Redshirt Freshman
Hometown: Marbury, MD
High School: Lackey HS (3.75 GPA)
Scout Rating: 3 Stars (#78 Safety)
Rivals Rating: 3 Stars (#68 Safety)
ESPN Rating: 74 (#150 Safety)
Penn State was the first school to offer Willis and he wasted no time committing to the Nittany Lions. He committed as a high school junior over programs like Ohio State, Illinois, and Maryland. Willis was a star at Lackey HS. Not only was he an outstanding safety, but he was also named first-time all-area at QB. The book on Willis was that he was a hard hitter and a sure tackler - both of which we got to see against Minnesota. Willis was a high school teammate of former Penn State commit turned Rutgers commit (academics) Darrell Givens. Coming out of HS, Givens was the higher touted prospect, but it appears Penn State has the better fit for the Grand Experiment. Givens' is now a redshirt freshman safety that has yet to record a tackle for the Scarlet Knights (he converted from CB in the spring).
Willis also appears to be a high character kid. Back when Willis was being recruited, it was right around the time ESPN was
witch hunting airing their Outside the Lines piece about Penn State and the off-field incidents that were happening. Willis had this to say:
"At a lot of schools around the country things are going to happen. People make mistakes. It's not like it really affected me or changed my mind," Willis said. "There are places you can get in trouble around the world. You can live in the country with no trouble at all and you can mess up. It's about bettering yourself after you make that mistake."
Willis was part of the outstanding 2009 recruiting class that included Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, Curtis Drake, Kevin Newsome, Derrick Thomas, Gerald Hodges, Justin Brown, Devon Smith, and Glenn Carson. This class, if everything falls into place and they reach their full potential, should be the back bone of Penn State's next Big Ten Championship team.
Willis showed that he is more than capable of playing Big Ten football. The big hits and sure tackles were something to talk about on Monday, but his ability in pass coverage was also note worthy. If Willis can continue to grow and mature, it appears Penn State has found an outstanding free safety, and at the very least, an excellent nickel back. Willis has shown the type of athleticism Penn State fans have been clamouring for all season (the safety athleticism always seems to be an issue at Penn State, at least to the fans).
Expect to see plenty of Malcolm Willis against Michigan on Saturday. Denard Robinson is an outstanding read/option QB that can burn teams big time with his legs. Willis has showed he can lay some big hits on players so look for Willis to let Denard Robinson know that this Penn State defense is not Indiana.
Tackling has been one of the major issues for this Penn State defense all season, but if Willis can help easy those problems (or help erase would work too), Penn State might just be able to surprise some pundits (and fans) the rest of the way.
I'm not sure he is as entertaining as Brandon Ware, but you can follow Malcolm on twitter if you wish @malc_money_10.
Willis openly admits he is a Washington Nationals fan (also a fan of all other Washington professional sports teams), which is on par with admitting you are a Pittsburgh Pirates fan. As a fan, you have to respect that type of loyalty.