49ers linebacker Patrick Willis was picked 11th overall and has made the Pro Bowl every year that he has been in the NFL.He is the centrepiece of the 49ers’ defence, and you could argue that he’ll be the best player on the field in the Super Bowl on Sunday.
But as Willis told Scott Osler of the San Francisco Chronicle, he is more of an underdog than his impressive resume indicates.
Willis grew up in a tiny Tennessee town and always wanted to go to the University of Tennessee. But when he was in high school, the school only showed token interest in him.
He visited the school on an unofficial basis five times. The last time he visited, he confronted Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer:
“I walked up to Coach Fulmer and I was like, ‘Coach, I’ve been up here for five unofficial visits, to show you that I want to come here, but yet don’t nobody say anything to me, don’t nobody recognise me, nobody shake my hand like they shake the other guys’ hands.'”
The coach told him that they were recruiting two other linebackers, and Willis says he cried on the way home.
It all worked out, obviously. He went to Ole Miss, became and All-American, and then hit in big in the NFL.
But it’s another good example of the fact that you don’t have to be a prodigy to become a dominant athlete.
Willis actually has a pretty great story. He comes from a poor family and worked odd jobs starting at age 10 to contribute.
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